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PHMSA lays out rules for its new authority to take on 'immediate safety threats'

The U.S. Pipelineand Hazardous Materials Safety Administration announced its interim final ruleto put in place emergency-orderauthority that allows it to take industrywide action on immediate safetyconcerns without going through the full rulemaking process.

In the interim finalrule, which is expected to appear in the Federal Register in the next week orso, PHMSA explains that the executive order authority gives the agency an optionthat existing tools, such as corrective action orders and advisory bulletins,do not. A corrective action order is enforceable but applies only to individualoperators. An advisory bulletin applies to the industry at large but carries noregulatory weight.

Federal earlier in 2016decided to give PHMSA emergency-order authority, in part because the multimonthAliso Canyonunderground gas storage facility leak exposed notable gaps in federal code.Congress has criticized PHMSA for being slow to issue rules in other contexts,as well, and legislators said emergency-order authority could help the agencytackle issues more nimbly.

"No enforcementvehicle existed, prior to adoption of the [Protecting our Infrastructure ofPipelines and Enhancing Safety] Act, that would allow PHMSA to addressimmediate safety threats facing the wider industry," PHMSA said in itsinterim final rule draft.

The new enforcementtool would allow the PHMSA administrator to issue orders to block unsafepractices or require additional safety measures nationwide. Before issuing anemergency order, though, the administrator would have to consider how it wouldaffect public health and safety, the economy, national security and servicereliability on pipelines, along with any relevant feedback from other agencies.

The U.S. Departmentof Transportation — the Cabinet department that houses PHMSA — noted in an Oct.3 statement that it would use its new power sparingly.

"The newregulations carry out DOT's enhanced authority to compel industry to takeimmediate action to address problems that put people, property or theenvironment at risk. We hope we never have to use it, but it is an important safetytool that will result in greater protection for the American public,"Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

Stakeholders willhave 60 days to comment on the interim final rule once it is published in theFederal Register.