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Comments to PHMSA on Proposed Pipeline Safety Initiatives

In September 2023, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) proposed a regulation to improve the safety of certain gas pipelines. The standards include a suite of reforms to help prevent incidents like the catastrophic 2018 gas pipeline explosions in Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts. It faithfully implements Congress’s directions in the 2020 Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act.

In our comment letter, we explain that, while the Proposed Rule and its accompanying regulatory impact analysis are well grounded in applicable statutes and guidance, PHMSA should take further steps to bolster its analysis. In particular, our letter explains that:

  • PHMSA appropriately uses breakeven analysis to support its conclusion that the Proposed Rule’s benefits justify its costs. PHMSA should, however, consider expanding its analysis by discussing pipeline incidents beyond Merrimack Valley and how the Proposed Rule could have prevented or mitigated them.
  • PHMSA should further disaggregate its cost-benefit analysis to show whether each of the Proposed Rule’s provisions is independently cost-benefit justified.
  • PHMSA should expand its analysis of administrative severability.
  • PHMSA should further explain its choice of a pre-statutory baseline for its cost-benefit analysis. Additionally, PHMSA should consider identifying which elements, if any, of the Proposed Rule are discretionary and assessing these elements’ costs and benefits against a post-statutory baseline.
  • PHMSA should provide a more robust quantitative and qualitative discussion of the Proposed Rule’s environmental justice benefits.
  • PHMSA should further discuss the social cost of methane estimates from the EPA’s November 2022 Draft Update.
  • PHMSA should clarify its data choices and estimates by (1) more robustly explaining how and why it selected the figures in its cost estimates, (2) incorporating data from the past two years (or explaining why such data is not incorporated), and (3) more clearly explaining how it derived its work-hour estimates.
  • PHMSA should discuss additional benefits of preventing pipeline leaks.