LANSING –- State Rep. Jim Townsend (D-Royal Oak) provided testimony to the House Energy and Technology Committee today regarding House Bill 5556. The committee also took testimony on a companion bill, House Bill 5557, sponsored by Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton). These two bills strengthen gas and pipeline safety and accountability measures in Michigan.
Townsend began work on the bills in response to an explosion in Royal Oak in February 2013. Utility contractors failed to follow required safety procedures for a natural gas pipeline replacement, resulting in the death of the homeowner. Subsequent investigations found that the contractors violated several state laws for pipeline replacement and that there is little to no oversight of this work. Townsend has been working with the Michigan Public Service Commission, major utility providers including Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, as well as Nesbitt, who chairs the Energy and Technology Committee, to strengthen oversight and enforcement.
“The February 2013 events were a preventable tragedy,” Townsend said. “Over the past year, Chairman Nesbitt, the MPSC, utility companies and I have been working to develop better standards for pipelines in Michigan. The bills introduced today are a product of that work and are a significant step toward comprehensive pipeline safety.”
HB 5556, sponsored by Rep. Townsend, requires coordination of emergency services for crises due to natural gas and raises both the minimum and maximum fines that MPSC may levy on a utility. HB 5557, sponsored by Rep. Nesbitt, prevents utilities from using ratepayer increases to recover the costs of fines incurred for violating pipeline safety rules.
Rebecca Craven, program director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, submitted testimony in support of HBs 5556 and 5557. “There are a couple of existing federal regulations that require pipeline operators to communicate with local public officials for various purposes, but none specifically speaks to the annual communication with county and local emergency management coordinators that would be required under HB 5556. For that reason, we support it,” Craven said in a letter delivered to the House Energy and Technology Committee.
In addition to HBs 5556 and 5557, Townsend has also introduced HB 5564. This bill requires the Michigan Public Service Commission to report publicly and to the Legislature information related to natural gas pipeline replacement program oversight. “I am hopeful this bill will get a hearing soon,” Townsend said.
“This legislation will put into law the best practices that we have identified over the last year and will help to prevent future incidents from occurring,” Townsend continued. “Michiganders have a right to know that the agency charged with overseeing pipeline safety is doing its job properly. Everyone in the system – regulators, utilities, contractors and local governments – must be held accountable for making sure Michigan does not suffer another accident like the one that occurred a year ago in Royal Oak. I am pleased my colleagues in the Legislature, policymakers at the Michigan Public Service Commission and at Consumers Energy have been willing to work with us on this important issue.”