February, five people in Allentown lost their lives in a tragic natural gas explosion. For five hours, natural gas fueled the flames, as City and UGI officials scrambled to find a shutoff valve. Had the explosion occurred just half a block away, it would have been a school.
I'm normally critical of King Edwin, but liked the way he handled that emergency. A month later, during a Business Matters broadcast, he made the following points:
♦ There is more regulation of our water lines than there is for a highly flammable substance being transported by aging, cast-iron pipes.
♦ Most of the cast-iron pipes in Allentown are ancient, some of them going back to the early 1900's.
♦ Allentown is no different in this regard than Bethlehem, Easton, or the many older boroughs in the Lehigh Valley.
♦ In the year before this explosion, Allentown responded to over 100 gas leaks.
♦ UGI's current schedule of replacement is phased over forty years, and the Lehigh Valley is the last area scheduled.
Legislation to enhance the safety of the nation’s 2.3 million miles of pipeline infrastructure passed the U.S. House of Representatives today with the support of U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (PA-15). In fact, in a rare display of bi-partisanship, the pipeline safety bill passed by voice vote.
It's called H.R. 2845, or the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act. It follows investigations into recent pipeline incidents across the country. In addition to the Allentown tragedy, there was an explosion in San Bruno, California, over 15 months ago, in which 8 people were killed, dozens injured and 38 homes destroyed.
In a news release, Congressman Dent's office explains that the bill calls for more federal safety inspectors, requires new pipeline transmission facilities to use automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves, enhances standards for aging cast iron pipelines, expedites their replacement and increases civil penalties for safety violations.
“This important legislation will help modernize our region’s aging pipeline infrastructure and enhance the safe delivery of vital energy resources to consumers and industries across the country,” said Rep. Dent. “Safety advocates, federal regulators, industry representatives and members of Congress from both parties worked extremely hard to develop this strong legislation, which puts the safety of the American people first. I am confident this bill will help reduce the number of tragic incidents like the deadly explosion in Allentown earlier this year.”