RICHMOND — Bills seeking to strengthen oversight of interstate natural gas pipelines are going to be making their way through the General Assembly.
Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem, is carrying a bill that directs the State Corporation Commission to seek federal authorization to conduct its own pipeline safety inspections.
The SCC already inspects intrastate pipelines, Habeeb said, and has been deputized by federal authorities to monitor interstate oil lines.
His proposal, which would have to be accepted by federal regulators, would expand that to include interstate natural gas pipelines.
“One of the concerns a lot of our constituents have is, if and when these pipelines come in, the feds won’t devote the resources needed to try to prevent a problem,” Habeeb said. “This is the first step in letting Virginia play a role.”
Federal regulations allow officials to delegate inspection duties to state agencies, though decisions about penalties and other enforcement action remain firmly under federal purview.
The inspection authority doesn’t empower the state to approve or deny proposals for new pipelines.
“It’s not a pro-pipeline bill. It’s not an anti-pipeline bill,” Habeeb said of the measure, House Bill 1261.
“It’s a bill that says, if interstate natural gas pipelines run through Virginia, then Virginia would like to have a role in protecting our citizens.”
Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, introduced a separate measure that would require companies seeking to build new pipelines to submit a local erosion and sediment control plan.
The proposal, Senate Bill 726, would apply to natural gas and other utility projects that disturb more than 50 acres of land.
While not specified in the original draft, Edwards said he hopes to amend the bill to require that the plan be filed with local governments along the project route.
Erosion and sediment control plans detail how builders plan to minimize erosion and protect local waterways and other surrounding areas from damage.
“It gives the localities some control over water quality protection,” said Edwards, adding he envisions that localities will be able to require changes and improvements in the plans as needed.
Edwards and Habeeb both filed their bills last week. They are awaiting committee hearings.