Democratic Reps Introduce Pipeline Safety Legislation on Earth Day

Bills would provide state oversight of oil and gas pipelines
Wednesday, April 22, 2015

LANSING — Representatives Sarah Roberts (D-St. Clair Shores), Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline) and Tom Cochran (D-Mason) introduced a package of bills today to call for more state oversight for oil and gas pipelines throughout Michigan. The bills aim to enhance pipeline safety and increase protection for the people and natural resources of our state. Robert Gordon of the Michigan Sierra Club and Nic Clark of Clean Water Action also spoke in support of the proposed legislation at a press conference on the Capitol steps.

“We can’t afford another disaster like the 2010 oil pipeline leak that spread to the Kalamazoo River, where a ruptured pipeline and a delayed response caused enormous damage,” Rep. Roberts said. “These bills will increase safety standards and enable more effective emergency responses, so that Michigan doesn’t suffer another billion-dollar debacle.”

The bills in the pipeline safety package would:

  • Require pipeline operators to get a permit from the state. The Michigan Public Service Commission would issue a permit only to pipelines that are unlikely to adversely affect the environment; public health, safety, or welfare; or the public trust in the Great Lakes.
  • Require all pipelines comply with Part 5 of the Water Resources Protection Rules of the Michigan Administrative Code
  • Require pipelines underneath the Great Lakes to be operated responsibly and to require the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to regularly inspect pipelines located under the lakes
  • Require an owner/operator of a pipeline to prepare and submit to the DEQ an emergency response plan as well as conduct leak response drills
  • Require an owner/operator of a pipeline to immediately notify the DEQ and all impacted property owners if they have knowledge of a leak
  • Require an owner/operator of a pipeline to pay an annual pipeline impact fee to be distributed 50 percent to the county where the pipeline is located and 50 percent to the General Fund, to be used to implement the Emergency Management Act and the Fire Prevention Code
  • Require the DEQ to give Michigan products and services priority in awarding contracts for the cleanup of leaked crude oil or petroleum

“Our pipeline safety bills would allow Michigan to implement minimum safety standards to protect drinking water and the Great Lakes,” Rep. Irwin said. “Regular inspections to ensure that our pipelines are properly anchored and are operating without leaks are the first step to avoiding another environmental disaster in our rivers or lakes.”

“Cleaning up a leak is a lot more expensive and difficult than preventing one,” Gordon said. “And some damage to people and ecosystems can never be undone. That’s why it’s so important to put measures in place now to avoid future leaks.”

Clark agreed, saying, “A spill from Line 5 where it crosses the Straits of Mackinac could quickly contaminate both Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The new bituminous crude oil being pumped out of Canada’s tar sands is heavier than water, and we saw how hard it was to clean up in the Kalamazoo River. The Great Lakes hold one-fifth of the world’s fresh water — we must protect them.”

In 2014, Gov. Rick Snyder announced a multi-agency Petroleum Pipeline Task Force charged with looking at pipelines transporting petroleum products around the state. The group’s work in progress is closed to the public, but it is expected it will share their findings sometime this year. However, Snyder, department staff and other elected officials have claimed there is not much Michigan can do in terms of state oversight, citing federal authority to regulate pipelines.

“The fact that the federal government oversees many aspects of pipeline safety doesn’t mean we can’t strengthen Michigan’s laws. These bills will give the people of Michigan a say in where and how pipelines operate in our state, so that the people affected by pipeline operations will have a voice in decision-making,” Rep. Driskell said. “And my bill will ensure that in case of a problem, the companies called first to deal with the cleanup will have local knowledge and a stake in Michigan’s future.”

“Local and state governments are usually the ones who end up managing emergency response and cleanup after spills,” Rep. Cochran said. “These pipeline safety bills will give them the resources and policy tools they need to protect people and our shared environment.”