On August 6, the Senate unanimously passed the Pipes Act 2020 with an amendment to strengthen pipeline safety regulations and whistleblower protections. Methane leaks contribute the equivalent of over 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere annually, caused by intentional venting or accidental leaks. Potential whistleblowers who see safety or environmental violations of the methane transportation regulations will be better protected if the bill passes into law. The Pipes Act ensures speedy decisions for claims brought against companies that violate new or existing rules for methane transportation. If a claim is made to the Department of Labor and is not ruled on in 210 days, the employee making the complaint is entitled to a de novo jury trial in the appropriate district court. This policy will pressure the Department of Labor to make expedient decisions and protect and encourage whistleblowers.
The Pipes Act modernizes the methane and natural gas transportation industry regulations and ensures companies are using the most current technology to prevent leaks and accidents. It requires the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to develop and change current regulations surrounding transportation. The Act also requires that PHMSA now address environmental concerns as well as safety concerns. Leaks must be discovered using the latest leak detection technology and repaired as soon as possible. Additionally, the Act requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review PHMSA’s plans and make recommendations before PHMSA presents a final report to Congress.
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) applauded the bill’s passage, stating: “Leaky natural gas pipes pose a significant hazard, and are major contributors to global warming, so we should be requiring the use of the latest technology to detect and prevent methane leaks from these pipes.” Although the bill has received bipartisan support in the Senate, its future in the House is unclear.