Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
December 13, 1999
On June 10 of this year, we learned a very valuable lesson in the hardest possible way. That Thursday, in the peaceful community of Bellingham, Wade King and Steven Tsiorvas were playing down by the creek in the park that bordered their backyards, as ten year old boys are prone to do. And Liam Wood, who had just graduated from high school, was fishing, because he loved to fish more than anything else. That afternoon, hundreds of thousands of gallons of gasoline leaked out of a pipeline and ignited. Liam, Wade and Steven lost their lives to this horrible tragedy. We owe it to the memory of those children-and to all of our children who were spared-to pay attention to the lesson we learned.
Immediately after this tragedy occurred, I formed a team to research and analyze our pipeline regulatory system and response capacity. Their mission was twofold. First, I told them that we need stringent standards to realize the goal that every inch of every pipeline in the state of Washington is secure. Second, I told them that we need to make sure that the firefighters, the police, the emergency medical teams-whoever it is that first shows up on the scene of any pipeline disaster-are properly trained and equipped to contain the disaster and to rescue lives in danger.
We will never have a risk-free society. If we are going to move petroleum and natural gas around, there will always be risk. But we must do everything in our power to minimize the risk.
Although we can never bring the lives of those children back, we need to do every thing in our power to improve pipeline safety so that no other family will have to suffer such a loss again. So today I'd like to announce my response to the Fuel Accident Prevention and Response Team's recommendations, and my legislative proposals to increase pipeline safety.
But first I need to pause and thank the team. The team I appointed has been working incredibly hard analyzing our existing and confusing regulatory system and response capacity and preparing recommendations for improvement. I put them on a tight schedule. There were long days where they worked straight through without breaks or meals in intensive sessions. They received no financial compensation for this effort. But their recommendations are solid and strong.
The Fuel Accident Team developed over 30 recommendations for strengthening pipeline safety. Today, I want to focus on my plans to begin implementing some of these immediately. We've created a two-phase plan.
First, we need to work with congress to revise the federal Pipeline Safety Act so that states have the authority to set tougher standards. . . and the power to enforce those standards.
Jim Hall, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, recently gave a speech that was a scathing condemnation of the pipeline industry. He said that the gasoline-pipeline explosion in Bellingham could have been prevented if the industry had accepted recommendations for pipeline safety that the NTSB had made more than a decade ago. Hall blamed regulators in the Federal Office of Pipeline Safety for lax regulation of the nation's fuel pipelines.
We need to work with our Congressional delegation and with other states to get congress to change pipeline safety laws so states can set more stringent standards and so that states have the power to enforce against violations. Right now, only four states have authority to inspect interstate pipelines: California, Arizona, Minnesota, and New York. And that's to inspect using Federal standards! It's still up to the feds and only the feds to act on those state-conducted inspections.
Recently the Office of Pipeline Safety stopped granting additional states this authority as a matter of "policy."
We must persuade them to reverse this decision so the state of Washington can gain the authority to inspect interstate pipelines. But we really want more than that. We want to set higher standards and enforce both state and federal standards. We want the ability to enforce regulations, not just make inspections. Because what's the point of standards-federal or state-if you can't enforce them?
The second phase of our plan will create an enhanced pipeline safety program for Washington immediately. To that end, my Supplemental Budget will include $345,000 for the Utilities and Transportation Commission. With this money they will hire a Pipeline Safety Specialist who will be our point person on pipeline safety within the state and in our work with the federal government as we seek to change the federal law to give more power to the states. Some of that money will go directly to the State Fire Marshal to help local agencies to be better prepared and equipped to respond to accidents. And some of that money will go to the Department of Ecology so they can strengthen their pipeline spill prevention program.
Once we are successful in either changing the federal law or OPS policy, we will create a state Office of Pipeline Safety. This will help ensure accountability in our work with federal and local governments on all aspects of pipeline safety. This office will oversee interstate pipelines and provide mapping information to local governments so they know exactly where all pipelines run.
As we implement our two-phase plan, we will also take the following immediate actions, because some things can be done independently of any changes to federal laws.
First, I'm asking our Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) to work with the legislature to revamp the state law about where pipelines can be placed and where power plants can be built. The current law was written to help us select sites for nuclear power plants more than 20 years ago and recent experience with its application to pipelines shows that it simply does not work well. I will ask that they develop a bill for introduction in the 2001 legislature.
Secondly, damage from digging by contractors-utility contractors putting in water, sewer, electricity, or telephone lines or general contractors building a fence-third party digging is a major cause of pipeline spills, and we need to determine how to improve Washington's enforcement against those who fail to call to get specific pipeline locations before they dig. I will be asking the Washington Utility Coordinating Council to work with the UTC and the public to rectify this problem.
Finally, I will contact pipeline operators and ask them to make voluntary improvements, especially with respect to joint planning and preparedness exercises with local governments.
It is generally agreed that pipelines are the safest means of transporting fuel, when compared to trucks, barges, ships or trains. Just a few weeks ago, our North Cascade Highway was closed by a gasoline truck accident that resulted in a 7,000 gallon spill. But that does not mean that we cannot do more to improve the design and performance of these pipelines.
Before I turn the floor over to your questions, I want to mention that our work at the state level has been paralleled by some terrific work at the federal level by our congressional members. Senators Patty Murray and Slade Gorton and Representatives Jack Metcalf and Jay Inslee have taken a leading role in focusing the attention of Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation on the need for improved pipeline safety.
Here in Washington, Representative Kelli Linville has been exercising outstanding leadership in the state legislature, focusing legislative attention on this issue through several well-focused hearings.
I am confident that with our legislative leaders, our congressional delegation and my administration working together, we can make substantial improvements in pipeline safety that will better protect public health and the environment for every Washington resident. If we all work together, we will ensure the legacy of Liam Wood, Wade King, and Steven Tsiorvas will live on in improved safety for all of the children of Washington.
Thank you very much.