HARRISBURG —A legislative proposal to create a pipeline oversight board intended to provide greater transparency and reassure the public that the infrastructures are safe is running into resistance.
Some state officials say the measure wouldn’t do enough to protect information that should remain secret to protect the infrastructure from terrorists.
State Rep. Carolyn Comitta, D-Chester County, said her proposal for the the Pipeline Safety and Communication Board was inspired by her experience working with community members concerned about the construction of the Mariner East pipeline in southeastern Pennsylvania.
“I realized how limited substantive communication has been” regarding pipeline safety, she said. “Residents deserve to feel safe and be safe,” Comitta said.
Pipeline safety has become an issue of concern statewide as fracking has made Pennsylvania one of the country’s leading sources of natural gas, she said. Last September a pipeline explosion in Beaver County destroyed a home prompted the evacuation of neighboring homes, according to the Associated Press.
Agency officials said that the proposal for the board would create problems with the way the state handles confidential information about pipelines.
The board would provide for the collection and sharing of information and appropriate public safety measures related to the planning, siting, construction, and safety of emergency response procedures for pipelines. In addition, the board would be responsible for coordinating communications regarding pipeline activities between government agencies, the pipeline companies and the public.
Not everyone on the emergency and veterans affairs committee seems convinced that the proposed safety board is needed.
State Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Cambria County, said that even if there is consensus that the state needs to improve the way information about pipelines is shared, it’s not clear that HB 1568 is the solution.
“I’m not sure we need another state board,” he said Wednesday.
Comitta’s House Bill 1568 would repeal the 2006 Public Utility Confidential Security Information Disclosure Protection Act that allows utilities to designate information as secret if the utility believes that releasing the information to the public would create a safety risk.
Seth Mendelsohn, executive director of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, told members of the House emergency and veterans affairs committee that HB 1568 is “admirable,” but the commission opposes the legislation unless it’s changed to better deal with confidential information.
Comitta said the state’s updated Right-to-Know law -- passed two years after the utility confidential security information law was enacted –- also includes an exemption for utility infrastructure.
But Mendelhsohn said the proposed change doesn’t make clear how the state would determine when that exemption should be used.
“There are real concerns,” he said.
Comitta said she’s open to revising the legislation to address the concerns. One possibility would be to revised the utility confidential security information law instead of repealing it, she said.
“This is the beginning of the opportunity to turn the good idea into reality,” she said.
State Rep. Stephen Barrar, R-Delaware County, the chairman of the emergency and veterans affairs committee, said that “a lot of work” still needs to be done to the legislation before it moves out of committee. He said an additional hearing on the topic will likely be held “before the end of the year.”