Senators’ Bill will Update Safety Standards to Address Flooding, Make Cleanup Plans Public, and Guarantee Local Communities a Seat at the Table

(Washington, D.C.) – Montana’s U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester introduced legislation this week to address gaps in pipeline safety oversight and transparency  that came to light as a result of the recent oil spills in Montana’s Yellowstone River and Cut Bank Creek.  The bill also makes sure affected communities have a voice in oil spill cleanup processes by making sure local official have a seat at the table.

“Our number one priority has to be getting the Yellowstone restored and making sure Montana landowners are made whole,” Baucus said.  “But we’ve also got a responsibility to look closely at what went wrong here and do what we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  There’s a pretty clear hole in pipeline oversight when it comes to flooding, and that’s unacceptable. We’ve got to make sure we’re using all the best, most up-to-date information to keep our rivers and streams protected.  That information should also be public, not only because folks have a right to know, but frankly because the disinfectant of sunshine is one of the most powerful tools we have to keep agencies and industry both on their toes.”

“Montanans have the right to all the information possible about pipelines and their safety,” Tester said.  “Since seeing the Yellowstone River spill, it’s clear we must have more transparency and accountability. This bill adds public input, improves safety procedures and gives our first responders the information they need to do their jobs.”

"By introducing this common sense legislation, Senators Baucus and Tester have shown their continued commitment to keep Montana's rivers, and the nation's rivers, clean and healthy for people, fish and wildlife," said Scott Bosse, Northern Rockies Director for American Rivers, the nation's leading river conservation organization. "The Yellowstone River oil spill, while not as devastating as the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska or the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, was a wake-up call that we need to pay closer attention our pipeline infrastructure, especially where pipelines cross rivers and streams."

The Baucus-Tester Pipeline Safety Bill seeks to increase safety and transparency in pipeline oversight in five ways:

1. Modernizing pipeline safety regulations based on best available data, with a specific focus on floods.
The Baucus-Tester bill requires the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to perform a detailed review of its river-specific pipeline crossing regulations, including operations, design, review of data and expertise from other agencies both federal and local, including groups like the Yellowstone River Conservation District Council, within six months to be ready for the next Spring runoff.  Within a year after completing a report to Congress PHMSA must revise its current river crossing regulations.

2. Increasing transparency.
The Baucus-Tester bill requires PHMSA to make detailed data regarding pipeline river crossings and oil spill response plans available to the public on its website. Neither data about crossings or oil spill response plans is currently available.

3. Providing technical assistance to tribes regarding pipeline safety.
The Baucus-Tester bill directs the Department of Transportation to create a protocol for consultation with tribes about pipeline regulation on reservations.

4. Updating Department of Transportation pipeline regulations.
The Baucus-Tester bill requires the Department of Transportation to review its regulations for gathering lines, leak detection standards, and automatic shut-off valves.

5. Guaranteeing local governments like Yellowstone County a stronger voice in spill cleanup.
The Baucus-Tester bill requires the 17-year-old National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP) to be updated to include language specific to local officials, making sure they have a stronger seat at the table in the cleanup process.

Lack of involvement from local officials was one of the biggest concerns expressed by Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy during the oil spill oversight hearing Baucus held in July.
"Right now there are a lot of boots on the ground working hard to address the spill, but it's critically important that local officials are a part of the process. We live, work and raise our families here. We have a vested interest in the community, and we will be the ones left picking up the pieces when others have pulled out,” Kennedy said after the hearing. 

“It’s just plain commonsense that the folks most affected should have seat at the table, unfortunately sometimes in bureaucracy we have to put commonsense into law to make sure it happens.  So, while the number on goal here is to prevent a spill like the one we saw in the Yellowstone from happening again, this bill makes sure local officials have a voice in the cleanup process if it does,” Baucus said.

Text of the bill is available HERE.