Sunday, July 15 , 2018, 6:45 pm | Fair 76º


Capps Questions Federal Regulator on Refugio Oil Spill, Pipeline Safety Failures

On Tuesday, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, joined her colleagues on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy & Power for a hearing on pipeline safety and the Plains oil spill.

Capps requested a congressional hearing on the Plains spill last month.

During the hearing, Capps questioned Stacy Cummings, interim executive director of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. PHMSA is the federal agency tasked with developing and enforcing safety regulations for the nation’s oil and gas pipelines, including the Plains All American Pipeline that ruptured just north of Santa Barbara, near Refugio State Beach, in Capps’ district on May 19.

Capps also questioned Dianne Black, assistant director of planning and development for County of Santa Barbara on the use of automatic shutdown systems and state-of-the-art leak detection technologies in the county. Capps recommended to Chairman Fred Upton that Black be invited as a witness given her expertise on the Plains spill and spill mitigation strategies.

The Congresswoman’s complete opening statement as prepared for delivery is below.

Opening Statement — Rep. Lois Capps

Thank you Mr. Chairman, and Ranking Member Rush for holding this hearing and for giving me the opportunity to provide an opening statement.

I also want to thank Chairman Upton and Ranking Member Pallone for your strong leadership on these issues and for working with me to incorporate oversight of the recent oil spill in my district into this hearing.

And I would like to welcome my constituent, Dianne Black from the County of Santa Barbara, who will be testifying on the second panel today.

As you all know, nearly two months ago over 100,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from the ruptured Plains All American Pipeline in my district.

The oil gushed from the ruptured pipeline, flowed down a hill, onto the beach, and into the ocean along the pristine Gaviota Coast.

From there, tens of thousands of gallons of oil spread for miles down the coast, closing popular beaches and valuable fisheries, devastating wildlife, and bringing back memories of the Platform A disaster more than 45 years ago.

Since that devastating oil spill in 1969, the Santa Barbara community has dedicated itself to learning from that tragedy and working to ensure it does not happen again.

Sadly, even in a community so determined to prevent them, May 19th reminded us that spills are inevitable as long as we continue to depend on oil for our energy needs.

I know the Plains Spill in my district certainly is not the first pipeline failure, nor will it be the last.

Time and time again, we’ve seen oil and gas pipelines fail, causing irreparable harm to lives, property, and the environment.

Just last Friday, we saw yet another oil spill in Illinois from a Plains pipeline, the very same company responsible for the spill in my district.

These spills remind us that we have a responsibility to do everything we can to prevent spills from happening, but also to be prepared to minimize the damage when they do occur.

That’s why today’s hearing and our work to reauthorize federal pipeline safety programs are so important.

As a result of the Plains Spill in my district, we have already gained valuable insights and identified weaknesses that must be addressed.

And I want to thank Chairman Upton and Ranking Member Pallone for working with me to fully investigate this spill and ensure the Administration is following through on its overdue pipeline safety reforms.

Over the years, regardless of who is in the White House, federal pipeline regulation has been weak and ineffective.

There is a reason that the company that built the pipeline that ruptured in my district sued in 1988 to have it regulated by the federal government rather than the County of Santa Barbara.

They knew that federal regulators would ask fewer questions and impose fewer restrictions.

This can’t be allowed to continue.

I recognize that progress has been made in recent years, but we still have a long way to go.

While PHMSA has certainly dragged its feet in implementing key reforms, Congress has also failed to provide the agency with the resources it needs to meet growing demand.

I often hear many of my colleagues tout efforts to support the rapid growth in domestic oil and gas development and pipeline construction in recent years.

While I don’t share their enthusiasm for this development, I hope we can all agree that we must also support efforts to ensure federal regulators have the resources they need to keep pace with this growth.

We simply can’t have one without the other.

Mr. Chairman, these are just a few of the many issues I hope this committee examines closely as we work to reauthorize pipeline safety programs.

These issues have traditionally been strongly bipartisan, and I hope that continues throughout this process.

Thank you, and I yield back.

— C.J. Young is the press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps.


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