Personal Injury

Gas pipeline safety improvements stalled by loose cannon legislator

On September 9, 2010, a subterranean natural gas pipeline owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) exploded in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno, creating a wall of fire that towered over 300 feet tall. The massive explosion killed 8 people and injured dozens more. It also leveled 38 homes and damaged about 70 others.

More than a year later, federal investigators issued a final report on the disaster that cited “multiple and recurring deficiencies in PG&E operational practices,” and concluded that the company suffered from safety problems described as “systemic.” Among the “litany of failures” the National Transportation Safety Board found was the fact that it took PG&E workers more than 90 minutes to cut off the gas that fed the raging inferno.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Much of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s natural-gas transmission system could be at risk of catastrophic failure, but the company’s record-keeping system is so flawed that the true danger is impossible to determine, federal investigators said Monday in their final report on last year’s San Bruno disaster.”

Because lax regulations directly contributed to the San Bruno disaster, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously passed the Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2011. But now the bill, which had nearly unanimous bipartisan support in Congress for improving the federal safety regulations, is stalled in the Senate by a lone Tea Party conservative: Rand Paul of Kentucky, a freshman legislator who objects to the bill on the simple ideological premise that it represents an expansion of the federal government.

Paul is using his Senate privileges to stall the bill, even after a gas explosion in his home state shook the residents of three counties and despite widespread support for it among the industry’s major trade associations.

As the consumer website points out, Paul’s “maneuvering has riled lawmakers such as U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat whose district includes San Bruno,” where the explosion that propelled the legislation occurred. Congresswoman Speier accused Paul of “putting his personal ideology above life and limb.”

“I just find it deplorable,” she added.


San Francisco Chronicle

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