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US senator looking to pass new laws following Boston-area gas blasts

A federal lawmaker representing Massachusetts, where a fatal series of explosions and fires affected three communities, questioned why existing rules did not prevent the disaster and whether the company involved had shirked its responsibility to operate safely.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., at an Oct. 12 news conference highlighted past tragedies — including the 2010 BP PLC offshore explosion and oil spill and the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear plant partial meltdown — that sparked new laws and regulations aimed at preventing recurrences of the same kinds of disasters. As more is known about the deadly Sept. 13 Columbia Gas of Massachusetts gas distribution overpressurization, it may prove to be another that requires regulatory change, Markey said.

"What new laws do we need to pass to make sure that we never see a disaster like this?" Markey said. "In the same we had to pass new laws after the BP oil spill and after the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, we're going to have to pass new laws to make sure that safety is first, that it's not short-changed because a corporation doesn't want to spend the money it should to make sure there is safety built into the system from the beginning."

On Sept. 28, Markey's office said the Senate commerce committee pledged to hold a field hearing in the Merrimack Valley area on the accident, which displaced more than 8,000 residents. Markey said he wanted to use the hearing in part to discuss with the National Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration what steps Congress might take in the wake of the explosions "to make sure it never happens again, anywhere."

Emphasizing Columbia Gas of Massachusetts parent company NiSource Inc.'s market capitalization of $8.8 billion, Markey also said he would work to ensure the company pays for safety upgrades to its system, damage repairs and compensation to people impacted.