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Landowners question federal pipeline regulators over safety

Aug 23, 2023Aug 23, 2023

Landowners are raising questions about the federal agency that oversees pipeline safety. This comes amid a legal battle over several proposed pipelines across the Midwest.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration, (PHMSA), is the federal pipeline safety organization.

PHMSA hosted a CO2 safety public meeting in Des Moines Iowa in early June.

The message from landowners and other stakeholders attending was clear: PHMSA should address the lack of safety regulations for CO2 specific pipelines before allowing corporations to build them.

Mary Pollem is a landowner from Iowa. She said pipeline safety should be addressed prior to building.

"So you’ve notified the world that there is a problem with the pipelines. You have notified the world that you are working on safety standards. What other part of government says, ‘Yeah, we know there's a problem, we know there is a safety issue, but we are going to go ahead and push this through, and too bad, we will deal with it later.’ Make those industries accountable," said Pollem.

Harold Winnie is a general engineer for PHMSA. He explained the role PHMSA currently takes.

"If a CO2 or a hazardous liquid pipeline or any pipeline is built, and constructed, and placed in service, PHMSA, or the appropriate state program will be responsible for enforcing the applicable federal regulations," said Winnie.

Currently, federal law addresses pipelines only once they are built. PHMSA conducts field inspections, accident analysis, and offers emergency response. Federal regulators cannot change the planned routes of pipelines.

Jess Messure is a resident of Iowa. She summarized a common concern.

"Since there are no set back distances at the federal level, and there is, you know, rules that need to be updated, a lot of counties are taking it upon themselves to pass zoning ordnances right now," said Messure. "Setback distances from people's homes, hospitals, and schools, and livestock facilities and more. Right now the pipeline companies are suing, threatening, and bullying any county and local government that's trying to protect itself."

At the conclusion of the two-day public meeting PHMSA commented that they had a lot of new issues to consider.