Pipeline regulation bill dies in House

March 14, 2013|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

A House committee has killed a bill that would have imposed state safety regulations on interstate natural gas pipelines that run through Maryland after concerns were raised whether they would conflict with federal law.

The Economic Matters Committee reported Thursday that it had voted down the Pipeline Safety and Community Protection Act, which had been withdrawn by its House sponsor, Del. Dan Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat.

The legislation had received more attention in the Senate, where Sen. Robert A. Zirkin made it the centerpiece of a series of a package of bills he introduced on the subject of pipeline safety.

Zirkin has said he became aware of the issue of pipeline safety after learning of Columbia Gas Transmission's plans to build a new pipeline alongside an existing one in a right-of-way that runs alongside his home in Owings Mills. In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee this week, he called attention to a series of pipeline explosions and leaks around the country and urged senators to give the Public Service Commission new power to oversee such pipelines.

Representatives of Columbia Gas told both committees that Congress has given the power to approve pipeline construction and regulate their safety to a pair of federal agencies. They said the Maryland legislation would be invalid because federal law would pre-empt it.

The bill was the broadest of a series introduced by Zirkin in the Senate and the delegates from his district -- Democrats Morhaim, Jon S. Cardin and Dana Stein -- in the House. The House action effectively kills the Senate bill as well. Several other, related bills have yet to receive a vote.

Morhaim said he withdrew the legislation ro make way for the other bills, which include components of his broader bill. He said he that having a hearing on the bill let him inform the committee about a serious national problem.

"The bill served a purpose," he said.

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