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Pipeline Safety Emergency Response Forum on December 7, 2011

Secretary Ray LaHood

--Remarks as Prepared--

Pipeline Safety Emergency Response Forum
Department of Transportation Headquarters
Friday, December 9, 2011

Good morning, everyone.  Welcome to the Department of Transportation.  Thank you, all, for joining us.

Many of you have heard us say that safety is our number one priority – that safety is the first, and most important, thing we think about every day.  Well, the pipeline explosions that occurred in Allentown and San Bruno are exactly the type of tragedy that keeps me awake at night.  I visited both communities and was privileged to meet with families who were affected.  They told me about their loss, their suffering, and their heartache.  They were victims of a disaster they were powerless to control or prevent.

Now, in both communities, I also had the opportunity to meet some of the first responders who arrived at a chaotic, dangerous scene – and who didn’t think twice before putting their own safety on the line to help others.  We are honored to welcome their brethren – all of you – America’s first responders. It takes a special kind of valor, and a certain brand of selflessness, to do the work you do.  We are a stronger, safer, more secure nation for your efforts.  And we thank you.

Of course, first responders like you understand better than anyone that some tragedies are unavoidable.  We can’t thwart natural disasters, like hurricanes or tornadoes.  But other crises are preventable – pipeline explosions among them.

You can see the big picture as clearly as I do.  Fatalities from natural gas pipeline incidents grew from seven in 2008, to nine in 2009, to 21 in 2010.  This is unacceptable.

The American people deserve to know that our pipelines are safe, regularly tested, and well-maintained.  People shouldn’t worry, when they go to sleep at night, that they’ll be jolted out of bed by an exploding pipeline in their front yard.  People should have absolute confidence that they can turn on the heat, the stove, or the computer without endangering their families and neighbors.

That’s why, in the wake of the incidents in Allentown, San Bruno, and elsewhere, I issued an urgent call to action for pipeline operators to conduct a top-to-bottom review; to identify those lines most in need of repair; and to replace any lines in critical condition immediately.

The U.S. Department of Transportation also implemented an action plan to strengthen oversight and accountability – and to ensure that the public has access to pipeline safety information.

At the same time, we’ve been working with Congress on a national pipeline safety bill.  All indications are that House and Senate negotiators have reached a deal on a final, bipartisan version of the legislation.  So, we hope to finally break through the Congressional log-jam next week.

But I don’t need to tell you, we can’t fix America’s pipelines from Washington.  Nor can we develop stronger emergency response plans without hearing from the men and women with boots on the ground, getting the job done, day in and day out.

That’s precisely why we’ve asked you to be here today.  And I want you to hear – directly from me – that we’re counting on your input as we develop policies and programs that will keep you safer, and the people you serve safer.

Most of all, I want you to know that we’re all in this together.  Many of you are already doing the innovative training and planning at the local level that we need to see happening nationwide.  We want you to share those best practices.  There’s simply too much at stake for us to tackle this problem on a piecemeal basis.

As just one indication of our commitment to this challenge, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve appointed Fire Chief Lanny Armstrong from Pasadena, Texas, and Fire Marshall Jerry Rosendahl from Minnesota, to serve on PHMSA’s Gas and Liquid Pipeline Safety Advisory Committees.  Lanny is here with us today.  Thank you for coming – and thank you for serving.  Jerry was not able to join us, but will provide an invaluable voice on the committee.

Finally, I couldn’t end my remarks without reminding you that we need you to help us spread the word about 811.  All Americans need know about calling 811 before they put a shovel in the ground.  A call to 811 first can prevent a call to 911 later.

So, let me leave it there and turn the podium over to the experts.  Thank you, once again, for participating today.  We can’t undo the damage done to the people of communities like Allentown and San Bruno.  But we can honor them by working, every day, to prevent future tragedies from striking our cities and towns – and breaking our hearts.  Thank you all very much.

Updated: Monday, April 9, 2012