Opinion

Democrats need to stop playing politics with our nation’s pipeline safety

Reauthorization bill should not be a partisan issue

Sections of steel pipe lie in a staging area in June before being inserted underground as part of the ETP-Sunoco Mariner East 2 pipeline in Exton, Pa. Reauthorizing the pipeline safety bill is something both parties can get behind, as they have done in the past, Upton writes. (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images file photo)

OPINION — In 2012, as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I worked with my good friend and fellow Michigander, the late Rep. John Dingell, to reauthorize our nation’s pipeline safety laws. This was in response to a pipeline burst that spilled 20,000 barrels of oil into the Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River near my district.

It didn’t matter that I had an ‘R’ next to my name and John had a ‘D’ next to his. What mattered was getting a final bill that could advance through a Republican House and a Democratic Senate and be signed by a Democratic president — a dynamic similar to the one we face today, with a Democratic House, a Republican Senate and a Republican president. Back then, we needed legislation that would make critical safety improvements to our nation’s vast pipeline infrastructure — and that’s exactly what we did, cutting down on incident reporting times and increasing financial penalties for violations.

Four years later, we did it again, with Republican and Democrats working together to pass another bipartisan pipeline safety bill.

But that bill’s authorization expired Oct. 1. After months of discussing a bipartisan reauthorization with our Democratic colleagues, they have decided to move forward on their own path, crafting a partisan plan without Republican input.

This is most unfortunate. This bill has historically been a bright spot of bipartisanship on an issue of national importance, and it should be again this year. With our government divided, the only way to advance something through Congress and get it signed by the president is if Democrats work with Republicans.

The truth is Republicans have remained at the negotiating table, ready and willing to meet with our Democratic colleagues. Any suggestion to the contrary is flat-out wrong.

There have been reports that negotiations broke down over Republican demands for the inclusion of provisions relating to criminal penalties for damaging pipelines. While I don’t like to negotiate in public, I want to be clear that while talks were still ongoing, Republicans and Democrats both agreed to a compromise. We agreed to set aside all issues dealing with civil and criminal penalties, even those meant to deter dangerous attacks on pipeline facilities, in order to reach a bipartisan deal.

So we were on a bipartisan path before Democrats abandoned this approach. We are hoping our colleagues on the other side of the aisle will drop this partisan plan and come back to the table so we can get this done.

It’s just too important not to.

2.7 million miles of energy pipelines deliver trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and billions of barrels of liquid petroleum products to communities across the nation every year. A disaster could devastate our economy, our environment and the well-being of American families, which makes playing politics with this reauthorization simply irresponsible.

I believe we have straightforward priorities for our pipeline safety bill that both parties can get behind.

First, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, and the states must have the resources necessary to do their job.

Second, we need to support PHMSA’s efforts to complete overdue congressional mandates.

And third, we need to ensure that PHSMA, state regulators and pipeline operators are incorporating lessons learned from prior accidents, integrating new technologies and continuing to improve safety.

My friend John Dingell taught me a number of great lessons, none as important as the value of bipartisanship. I hope as we move toward reauthorizing our nation’s pipeline safety bill that we can do so together — just as we have done many times before. We cannot let political games and minor disagreements get in the way of a solid bipartisan bill that would protect our pipelines and ensure the safe delivery of our nation’s energy resources.

Rep. Fred Upton represents Michigan’s 6th District and is the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy. He served as chairman of the full committee from 2011 to 2017.

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