News

Governor signs pipeline safety laws

San Bruno explosion took eight lives

By Sara Gaiser

Bay City News Service

Six state bills on gas pipeline safety written in response to the deadly Sept. 9, 2010, explosion in San Bruno were signed into law Friday.

Gov. Jerry Brown said the legislation would strengthen maintenance and oversight of natural gas transmission pipelines and improve coordination between gas line operators and first responders.

"We learned very important lessons from the tragic explosion in San Bruno," Brown said. "These bills protect California's communities by setting new standards for emergency preparedness, placing automatic shutoff valves in vulnerable areas and ensuring that gas companies pressure test transmission lines."

The San Bruno explosion, which killed eight people, destroyed 38 homes and injured dozens of other people, prompted a rush of new safety legislation. Investigations at the state and federal level uncovered a long list of errors and problems that contributed to the disaster.

Assembly Bill 56 by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, will require utilities to pressure test all pipelines, install remote-controlled shutoff valves in high population areas, and maintain accurate records. It also requires the California Public Utilities Commission to track money it grants for pipeline repairs to make sure it is being used properly, and prohibits utilities from using ratepayer money to pay penalties for safety violations.

"This is the strongest pipeline safety law in the country," Hill said. "California is going beyond federal standards and being a leader."

Senate Bill 44 by state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, requires stricter emergency response standards for natural gas operators and improves communication and coordination with emergency responders.

"After multiple investigations, we've learned what precipitated the San Bruno explosion and what needs to be done to prevent an occurrence," Corbett said. "This bill fixes one of the identified problems: a poor and uncoordinated response to the disaster."

Senate Bill 216 by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco (the district includes Woodside and Portola Valley), requires installation of automatic or remote-controlled shutoff valves on all pipelines that cross an active fault line or are located in densely populated areas.

"While much more needs to be done, SB 216 helps hold PG&E accountable and ensures residents are safe," Yee said.

Yee also introduced a bill previously signed into law providing disaster relief for affected families and the County of San Mateo, City of San Bruno and local schools.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, authored Senate Bill 705, establishing a statewide policy directing the gas industry to make safety its top priority and prohibiting utilities from passing on the costs of safety improvements in the form of unreasonable rate increases, according to Leno.

Senate Bill 879, authored by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, increases fines for violations of CPUC rules.

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