Otten reintroduces Pipeline Early Detection and Warning proposal cited in PUC decision

EXTON, May 13 – State Rep. Danielle Friel-Otten, D-Chester, has reintroduced legislation that would place the costs of early detection and warning systems on pipeline operators rather than taxpayers and ensure that these systems are in place prior to pipeline operation.

Pennsylvania law requires school districts, municipalities, and local emergency management agencies to implement disaster response and emergency preparedness plans consistent with guidelines developed by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. However, a recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission found that pipeline operators have too often failed to provide any reliable means of monitoring pipelines for leaks or alerting communities of pipeline incidents, leaving local officials unable to fulfill their state-mandated emergency preparedness requirements.

House Bill 1364, which Otten introduced as H.B. 1735 during the 2019-20 legislative session, seeks to address that failure by establishing a pipeline early detection and warning board. This board would collect fees from pipeline operators and distribute those funds to municipalities, school districts, or county governments for the development of early detection and warning systems to alert communities and emergency responders in the event of a pipeline incident.

“For too long, Pennsylvania taxpayers and our local communities have borne all the risks and all the costs of pipeline operation,” Otten said. “My legislation properly places those costs on pipeline operators rather than taxpayers and helps to mitigate safety risks by ensuring that our municipalities, school districts, and emergency responders have the ability to develop emergency response plans and fulfill their statutory emergency preparedness requirements.”

In an April 2021 ruling for the PUC, administrative law judge Elizabeth Barnes cited Otten’s H.B. 1735 (now reintroduced as H.B. 1364) as a potential remedy for school districts in the path of one or more pipelines, noting that, “HB 1735 … would provide standards and a fee-generated funding mechanism to cover the cost of real-time leak detection systems that communicate directly with the appropriate first responders.” Barnes noted that the PUC is currently considering comments from a local school district “to incorporate or implement this program so the School district would be a beneficiary of a detection system and immediate notification in the event of a leak within the proximity of one of its schools.”

Anyone who needs more information can contact Otten’s office at 484-200-8259.