Tester calls for better oversight, transparency of pipeline safety
Tester calls for better oversight, transparency of pipeline safety
(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester is calling on his colleagues in Congress to support better oversight and transparency of pipeline safety in the wake of Exxon’s recent oil spill in the Yellowstone River.
“We cannot be in the business of saying no to safety, transparency and accountability,” Tester said during today’s congressional hearing examining the July 1 spill. “We are in the business of making those values work for us, for the sake of our health, our safety, our economy and more importantly, for our kids and grandkids.”
Tester also told members of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials that his priority is to preserve jobs and to “make sure the Yellowstone River and the land that surrounds it is returned back to the way God intended it.”
Tester added he has “consistently questioned” pipeline safety because of their possible impact on Montana jobs related to agriculture, oil refining, and the state’s $3.4 billion-per-year tourism and recreation industry. Tester is the Senate’s only farmer and chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.
On Wednesday, Tester received assurances from Exxon’s president that his company had “no plans to layoff anyone” at its Billings refinery following the spill.
Tester, who was invited to testify by the subcommittee’s ranking member on Monday, also said he is concerned by Exxon’s “mixed messages” and conflicting information following the spill. And he noted that “Exxon was tasked with regulating itself.”
“Regulators were not on the job and now we’re paying a price for it,” Tester said. “There are always things we can do to streamline and adjust regulations to make sure they are still protecting consumers and the public without strangling small business. But without regulations, we’ll see more economic meltdowns and oil spills and corporate takeovers that hurt small businesses.”
Tester’s testimony is online HERE. Tester’s remarks, prepared for delivery, appear below.
Sen. Jon Tester
Testimony on Silvertip Pipeline Oil Spill
House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials
July 14, 2011
PREPARED FOR DELIVERY.
Congresswoman Brown, thank you for Monday’s invitation to this hearing to speak on behalf of Montana on the recent oil spill in the Yellowstone River.
Congressman Rehberg, it’s good to see you. Thank you for your follow-up invitation request yesterday.
I agree on the importance of working together on this critical issue. I’m pleased to see people are being reasonable on this issue. We could stand to have a little more working together and being reasonable on other important issues facing our country.
I appreciate this committee’s serious consideration and work to make America’s infrastructure safer. And more secure.
Ms. Alexis Bonogofsky was supposed supposed to be here today from Montana. I understand she couldn’t make it because of health concerns.
Like Ms. Bonogofsky, I make a living in production agriculture. My wife Sharla and I still farm the land homesteaded by my family a hundred years ago. In fact, just last weekend I was home plowing down peas and stacking hay. I’m the only member of Congress who can say that.
My livelihood as a farmer — and my bottom line — depend upon clean water and healthy land. If either of those is compromised, Montana’s farmers and ranchers cannot produce the high quality feed, food and fiber that we’re famous for.
Of course, it’s not just agriculture. Many refinery jobs in Montana are connected to the Silvertip Pipeline. And when incidents like this happen, those jobs are put in jeopardy. I would like to thank Exxon for responding so quickly to my request to make sure that there will not be layoffs while the pipeline is shut down.
As the Chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, I also know that the land, rivers and lakes where we hunt, fish, hike, boat and play — make Montana the “Last Best Place.” Montana’s tourism and recreation industry bring in $3.4 billion a year to our state. It is Montana’s second largest industry behind agriculture.
So as a farmer and as a sportsman, I have consistently questioned the safety of our current and proposed pipelines in Montana. In fact, when TransCanada had plans to lower safety standards for sections of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline through rural Montana, I put my foot down.
They wanted run thinner pipe in Montana and across rural America and a waiver to run higher oil pressure. I said “No way.” And they changed their plans.
My message then, and my message now: There’s no cutting corners in rural America.
When I commented about the proposed Keystone Pipeline to Secretary Clinton, I urged her to assure that all safety precautions were taken when permitting and building it.
I also hinged my support on the fact that safety must come first. And that property rights in rural America must be respected and treated fairly in all transactions.
Soon after the Yellowstone River spill on July 1, I called on Exxon to pay for full cost and recovery of this clean-up. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay one dime in the end. Exxon reported about $11 billion in profit in the first quarter of this year alone. As Montana taxpayers, we have already paid our share.
I will continue hold Exxon accountable through all avenues—including legislation.
When I found out about a loophole in the Clean Water Act that lets companies like BP and Exxon off the hook, I proposed a bill to fix it.
My bill requires companies that spill oil to pay whichever fine is greater — whether the fine is based on the number of barrels spilled, or the duration of the spill. We have real consequences for polluters that harm jobs and our economy.
And finally, we expect—and deserve—full cooperation, accountability and transparency from America’s biggest and most profitable corporations in the wake of disasters like this.
Exxon has been ambitious in efforts to keep us informed and to respond to the needs of the communities affected by this spill. That is a very good thing. But I’ve been frustrated by the fact that Exxon hasn’t always been accurate.
We’ve heard mixed messages about how long it took to shut the pipeline down when the spill happened.
We’ve heard different stories about how far downstream the oil has traveled.
We’ve heard conflicting reports about how deep the pipeline was buried. And in this situation, Exxon was tasked with regulating itself. Regulators were not on the job. And now we’re paying a price for it.
Sound familiar? Wall Street had no regulators either, and it led to the collapse of our nation’s economy three years ago.
There are always things we can do to streamline and adjust regulations to make sure they are still protecting consumers and the public without strangling small business. But without regulations, we’ll see more economic meltdowns and oil spills and corporate takeovers that hurt small businesses.
Folks who say we are over-regulated in this country are speaking on behalf of Wall Street and Big Oil. I’ll look those folks in the eye and say, “You are wrong.”
Here we are, nearly two weeks after the spill. And we still haven’t seen the spill response plan. Government regulators haven’t given us the plan. Exxon hasn’t given us the plan. I, along with this committee, have asked for a plan.
Furthermore, Exxon’s cleanup plan was returned to them because it was incomplete.
I must ask this Committee, I must ask Exxon and I must ask the Administration: What good does a spill response plan do, if no one can access it to actually respond? How do we validate that that these companies are well-prepared if we are being stonewalled on getting the information?
Are other discrepancies which have yet to be explained?
Why did Exxon close the valves and then reopen them, only to close them again?
Why did Exxon cut the pipeline bed instead of bore it, when boring would have been safer?
I hope we will get clear answers to these questions. There are more than 13,000 miles of pipeline in Montana.
This time it was the Billings area, but there are dozens of other communities that could easily face the same or worse conditions without smarter strategies for pipeline safety.
We must fully uncover exactly what happened before, during and after this spill — for the sake of folks impacted by this spill, up and down the Yellowstone River.
And as we do, it’s just as important that we strive to build a culture more committed to safety, transparency and full accountability among everyone involved.
Unfortunately not everyone is committed to those values. Yesterday Senator Rockefeller tried to pass the Senate’s pipeline safety bill. I hope it can happen today.
We cannot be in the business of saying no to safety, transparency and accountability. We are in the business of making those values work for us — for the sake of our health — our safety — our economy — and more importantly, for our kids and grandkids.
We’re not out of the woods yet. But this hearing is a good sign that folks are willing to work together. To make sure taxpayers are protected. To make sure jobs are not lost at the local refinery when supply is disrupted.
To make sure the Yellowstone River and the land that surrounds it is returned back to the way God intended it. To make sure our air — and our drinking water downstream is clean and safe. And to protect fish and wildlife.
Looking forward, we need to make sure all pipelines — and proposals for pipelines — need to put a premium on safety. To take every precaution to minimize risk.
Make no mistake, we are all for jobs. And I am all for responsible energy development, using all of this nation’s resources. But above all, we must do it safely.
Thank you again to the committee members for inviting me to speak on this important subject.