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Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration – Town Hall Meeting

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration-
Town Hall Meeting
Washinngton, DC
Wednesday, October 16, 2019

 

Thank you, Skip, for that introduction and for your great leadership at PHMSA. 

It’s a pleasure to join the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Town Hall meeting today. 

By now, everyone may have heard that Bobby Fraser – PHMSA’s Director of Governmental, International and Public Affairs – is moving up to the 9th floor.  Bobby will be serving as Senior Policy Advisor.  It will be great having a PHMSA expert down the hall – which might save Skip some trips!

Bobby will be replaced at PHMSA by Ben Kochman, who has been ably serving in Government Affairs under Adam Sullivan.  And before that was Legislative Director to Congresswoman Kay Granger of Texas – Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee.   

In addition to the PHMSA leadership and staff here, let me extend a hello to PHMSA employees in the regional offices, and others joining us from locations across the country – including the Training and Qualifications Center in Oklahoma City.

Our Nation’s energy infrastructure, energy security, our economic future, and the quality of life of every American depend on a safe and secure pipeline system, and an equally safe network of moving hazardous materials by all modes of surface transportation. That’s why the U.S. Department of Transportation’s top priority – and the top priority of everyone at PHMSA – is safety. Safety is the foundation of everything we do.

PHMSA’s hard work greatly improves the safety of the Nation’s 2.8 million-mile pipeline system, and the 1.2 million shipments of hazardous materials that are shipped by air, rail, highway and waterway every day.

And there is good news to report when it comes to pipeline and hazardous material safety.

On September 24th, 2019, PHMSA issued three major pipeline rules to the Federal Register that strengthened the safety of more than 500,000 miles of onshore gas transmission and hazardous liquid pipelines throughout the United States. These rules are significant revisions to federal pipeline safety laws and will improve the safety of our nation’s energy infrastructure.

The Department’s second priority is rebuilding and refurbishing our country’s infrastructure. This is vital to our country’s productivity, economic vitality and quality of life for everyone.

This past year alone, the Department distributed more than $65 billion to help build new infrastructure – from roads and bridges to aviation, rail, and transit. And PHMSA’s grant programs have made a major impact on infrastructure inspection, oversight and safety.

On August 15th, 2019, the Department announced $60.3 million in pipeline safety grants. These grants will support pipeline and underground natural gas storage safety programs at the state level. Eight states received $7.1 million for underground natural gas storage. And, 49 states received $53.2 million for pipeline safety programs.

And, on September 20th, the Department announced $34.3 million in grants to enhance pipeline safety and hazardous materials safety – including the Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Grant program. The grants were awarded to all 50 states, as well as local communities, tribal entities, emergency responders and non-profit organizations to support safety programs at the state and local levels.

Finally, the MOU signed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on August 31, 2018, has greatly accelerated LNG facility permitting, while maintaining our high safety standards. PHMSA has now issued 13 Letters of Determination – more than double from a year ago.

Our third top priority is preparing for the future – by engaging with emerging technologies to address legitimate public concerns about safety, security, and privacy, without hampering innovation.

One example worth highlighting comes in the field of pipeline safety.  PHMSA is enabling and accommodating innovation by amending its rules to allow greater use of plastic pipe in gas transmission systems.  We all know there’s been tremendous innovation in the area of materials science and engineering in recent years.  This rule change specifically recognizes and accommodates the significant advancements that have occurred in the design and manufacture of plastic pipe. 

Today, pipes made of plastics are much safer than they were 20 years ago, and they provide a safe and cost-effective alternative to traditional metal pipes for transporting natural gas and other pressurized gas products.  Thanks to the extra diligence and work we’re putting into regulatory reform at the Department of Transportation, PHMSA’s gas transmission regulations are keeping up with the latest state of the art in pipeline technology.

And, some of the Department of Transportation’s most successful – and innovative – safety programs have emerged by working closely with your colleagues across the modes.

In 2018, PHMSA exemplified cross-modal cooperation by partnering with the FAA, FRA, FMCSA, the United States Coast Guard, and the United States Postal Service to establish the “Check the Box” awareness campaign. Every day, more than one million shipments of hazardous materials are made by land, sea and air. The goal of this campaign is to reduce instances of undeclared hazardous materials in our transportation systems. 

You have been building cross-functional teams within PHMSA as well. Your Process Improvement Initiatives are making real headway in breaking down silos within the agency, and improving the way people across PHMSA work together to solve problems and accomplish PHMSA’s vital mission.

Another collaborative effort is the PHMSA Advanced Leadership Development Program. This program pools the combined experience and expertise of successful leaders throughout the Department to build a solid foundation for PHMSA’s future.  Together, we’re investing in PHMSA’s most valuable resource – your people.  

PHMSA has had a big year! Thank you, again, for the opportunity to spend some time with you today.  Keep up the great work, PHMSA!

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Updated: Friday, October 18, 2019
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