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Federal pipe safety regulator working through Trump's 2-for-1 deregulation order

With multiple planned rulemakings and pending congressional directives in the works, the federal pipeline safety regulator is sorting through how Trump administration limits on new regulations will affect the agency's policymaking.

In the coming weeks, the U.S. Department of Transportation, which houses the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, plans to publish guidance in the Federal Register on how the department is handling executive orders related to energy independence and regulatory burden, Alan Mayberry, PHMSA's associate administrator for pipeline safety, said at a June 6 meeting.

Specifically, the notices should address the department's plans related to President Donald Trump's executive order requiring agencies to identify at least two prior regulations to eliminate for every one regulation proposed with an eye to preventing net increases in regulatory costs.

PHMSA will not have to be balancing out its rules in a vacuum, according to Mark Sanborn, PHMSA's director of governmental, international and public affairs. PHMSA will be able to draw on any rule cutbacks or cost savings found throughout the modes DOT regulates, including pipe, highway, rail, air and water transport, he said June 6 at a meeting of PHMSA's gas pipeline advisory committee.

"Basically, the guidance that we've gotten from [the Office of Management and Budget, or] OMB is that … it's within the department," Sanborn said. "[Across] all the modes, the regs that have been eliminated … go into a bucket for DOT for both the reg itself and the cost saving. ... The DOT office of General Counsel is responsible, with OMB, for keeping a tally of both how many regs have been reduced and how much has been saved."

This is both a boon and a challenge for developing individual new regulations. While PHMSA's gas pipeline advisory committee, which helps inform PHMSA's rulemaking process, does not have to consider the complex cost calculations across multiple rulemakings, the committee also does not have a clear view of what all the DOT has put into the bucket of nixed rules, department-wide.

The committee on June 6 and 7 discussed PHMSA's long-awaited gas transmission and gathering rule proposal. The 550-page proposal, released in 2016, incorporated congressional mandates, National Transportation Safety Board recommendations and other initiatives. PHMSA estimated that the industry should expect to pay between $39.8 million and $47.4 million annually to comply with the proposed safety rule. Industry, however, has said the regulation could cost 56 times as much. The executive order would apply to "significant regulatory actions" that have an annual economic impact of $100 million or more or adversely affect the economy or jobs.

PHMSA also previously indicated its plans to add on to underground gas storage facility regulations released in 2016. Underground storage facilities were not previously regulated at the federal level.