Pipeline Admin Boss Testifies before Congress

Pipeline Admin Boss Testifies before Congress

Earlier this month, Tristan Brown, deputy administrator for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration gave testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

The May 7 hearing was to examine the reauthorization needs of PHMSA. During that hearing, Brown outlined the hazmat threats and how PHMSA addresses those. Below is an excerpt from Brown’s testimony with links to the full transcript and video recording.

Thank you for inviting me to testify today on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) pipeline safety program As I testified last year before this Subcommittee—Safety is, and remains, the top priority for DOT and PHMSA. Specifically, PHMSA is responsible for overseeing the safe transport of hazardous materials—through pipelines and also via other modes of transportation—aviation, rail, motor carrier, and marine. PHMSA oversees the safe design, operation, and maintenance of the Nation’s nearly 3.3 million miles of oil, gas, and other hazardous materials pipeline and storage facilities, including for hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and other emerging fuels. Additionally, PHMSA’s oversight of hazardous materials transport via other modes includes nearly 1 in 10 goods that are transported commercially in the U.S., everything from nuclear waste to lithium-ion batteries, to spacecraft being transported to spaceports around the world.

Nearly two-thirds of the energy we consume in the U.S. is transported via pipeline. Over the past few decades—and especially over the last few years in conjunction with America’s red-hot economic growth—energy production in the United States has continued to increase to record levels. Concurrently, U.S. transportation of these products has necessarily increased, and exports of energy products have—according to the Energy Information Administration—also reached record levels. This means heightened demands on our pipeline and refined products storage infrastructure, as well as export facilities, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, the safety and environmental risks over which PHMSA also oversees.

Put simply: the volume of work before PHMSA, and the challenges in carrying out our safety and environmental mission established by Congress, have never been greater. Aging infrastructure requires more maintenance, and, greater safety scrutiny. A significant portion of the cross-country pipeline infrastructure was built shortly after World War II—meaning many pipelines are over 80 years old. Furthermore, there are even a few gas distribution segments that were installed during the Civil War era, more than 150 years ago—which, thanks to the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are finally modernizing through our first-of-its kind community natural gas modernization grant program.

With increasing challenges and broader demands on our agency, clear direction and resources from Congress are important, particularly as we close out the final few congressional mandates from the 2020 PIPES Act. PHMSA is grateful for the work that this Subcommittee has done in advancing bipartisan legislation—particularly increased authorization levels— and I look forward to providing additional feedback on the reauthorization needs of the agency during this hearing.

After enactment of the PIPES Act of 2020, Congress also enacted the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. So as PHMSA has worked to implement the 2020 PIPES Act, PHMSA has also awarded three rounds of funding for our first-ever infrastructure grant program—a substantial undertaking for our agency. Congress created the Natural Gas Distribution Infrastructure Safety and Modernization (NGDISM) Grant Program, providing $1 billion over five years to improve the safety of high-risk, leak-prone, legacy natural gas distribution infrastructure with a specific emphasis on benefiting disadvantaged rural and urban communities. Municipality- or community-owned utilities are eligible, and funds are available to these entities seeking assistance in repairing, rehabilitating, or replacing high-risk, leak-prone natural gas distribution infrastructure, or acquiring equipment to assist in identifying and reducing natural gas incidents and fatalities. This grant funding is helping communities of all sizes make their infrastructure safer, creating good jobs, reducing heat-trapping methane from the atmosphere, and saving residents and businesses money on their energy bills. As previously mentioned, there is plenty of aging infrastructure across the country that can benefit from this program. For example, PHMSA awarded funding to multiple projects—in both Massachusetts and Nebraska—where the pipeline systems date back to the 1890s. Additionally, for the past two funding rounds, Congressman Burlison’s district was awarded a total of over $30 million for the City Utilities of Springfield to acquire methane leak detection equipment, as well as to replace over 38 miles of legacy plastic natural gas lines and around 3,400 legacy plastic gas services and meter sets. Communities neighboring Congressman Burchett’s district also received funds this year totaling over $4 million for pipe replacement and equipment needs. Congressman Troy Carter joined Senator Cassidy and me in his district to announce more than $27 million for community owned systems throughout Louisiana last year. We have been delighted to see the interest and excitement from grant applicants and recipients and are happy to say that the NGDISM program is working. During our first year of project solicitations, the program attracted nearly $1.8 billion worth of applications for $200 million in funding. We had similar interest when we announced the FY23 and FY24 round of funding. This year we were able to issue grants to Texas, North Carolina, Kentucky, and New York (among others) for the first time. Last year we issued first-time grants to Kansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Florida (among many others). And this week, we are issuing another Notice of Funding Opportunity for the FY25 round of funding, which I know applicants are eager to apply for.

Although the program is funded through 2026, PHMSA anticipates the work in carrying out and overseeing the infrastructure projects from the NGDISM program won’t be completed until 2033. In anticipation of this, and to address burdens on underserved community applicants, PHMSA has streamlined its National Environmental Policy Act review process—establishing a first-of-its-kind, tiered approach to conduct environmental assessments of these important projects. Utilizing the administrative funding granted to us by Congress in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, PHMSA took on the financial and administrative burden of conducting a tier 1 programmatic review of potential environmental impacts from this new grant program— instead of placing that burden on grant recipients. PHMSA, along with our partners at the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Massachusetts, as well as the White House Council on Environmental Quality, created a tier 2 template that community grant recipients can use to identify project-specific impacts for these pipe repair/replacement projects and streamline the project-specific environmental review process—saving months of time, as well as saving communities and taxpayer money that would otherwise need to be spent on these potentially lengthy reviews. PHMSA was honored to be asked by the White House Council on Environmental Quality to present our work last year as an example for other agencies to replicate to help get projects completed faster and more efficiently, without sacrificing important environmental values.

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