U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene an executive session on Wednesday, July 31, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. in Hart Senate Office Building 216 to consider the following legislative measures.
- S. 2297, Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2019, Sponsor: Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.)
- S. 2299, Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act of 2019, Sponsors: Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.)
*Agenda subject to change
Executive Session Details:
Wednesday, July 31, 2019
Hart Senate Office Building 216
Results of the markup can be found here.
Chairman Roger Wicker
Good morning and welcome to the Commerce Committee’s eighth executive session of the 116th Congress. Before we turn to today’s agenda, I want to highlight the work this committee has done to bring two major bills to a vote today.
The Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2019, sponsored by Senator Sullivan, reflects several months of bipartisan work to support the Coast Guard’s broad mission to ensure the safety and security of our nation’s waters.
The bill would:
- Authorize funding for Coast Guard operations and critical shipbuilding programs such as the National Security Cutter and Polar Security Cutter Icebreaker;
- Include the “Pay Our Coast Guard Act” to protect pay and benefits for Coast Guard members and their families should a future lapse in appropriations occur;
- Address numerous personnel reforms to help the Coast Guard attract and retain the best and brightest talent;
- Ensure that the Coast Guard takes advantage of the latest in technology to accomplish its missions by streamlining the acquisition system, focusing on testing unmanned systems, and starting a pilot program to test commercial satellites to combat illegal fishing;
- Support our Coast Guard families through a child care title authored by Ranking Member Cantwell. Her contributions to this bill would give Congress a better understanding of child care and family support requirements and ensure that Child Development Centers are inspected. Our Coast Guard families deserve nothing less than access to high-quality child care; and
- Lastly, the bill would make a number of common-sense reforms to maritime law to make operating safer for our recreational boaters and fisherman.
We have a responsibility to pass this important legislation, and I look forward to advancing the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act during this session.
Today we also consider the “Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2019.”
I would like to thank Senators Fischer and Duckworth for working on a bipartisan basis to introduce this bill to reauthorize the Department of Transportation’s pipeline safety program, which is administered by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
This legislation would provide the necessary resources and tools to improve pipeline safety further, which is a top priority of this committee.
This bill would:
- Provide a four-year authorization for PHMSA’s pipeline safety program with greater resources allocated to state and local pipeline safety officials;
- Allow PHMSA to conduct pilot programs to evaluate innovative pipeline safety technologies;
- Provide greater congressional oversight on pending PHMSA rulemakings;
- Direct PHMSA to update its current regulations for large-scale liquefied natural gas, or LNG, facilities; and
- Establish an LNG Center of Excellence to promote and facilitate safety, education, training, and technological advancements for LNG operations.
In light of recent events, this bill also includes several safety-related provisions addressing distribution gas pipeline systems.
Today’s markup of the PIPES Act of 2019 is the first major step toward final passage to reauthorize PHMSA’s pipeline safety program as we continue to advance the safety of our pipeline transportation network.
I look forward to working with the members of this committee to pass this bipartisan bill.
With that, I turn to my friend and Ranking Member, Senator Cantwell, for any remarks she may have.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell
Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you for working on these two important pieces of legislation, and having another mark-up in the committee. I want to first thank our staffs for working so hard and diligently through the night last night to finalize these two pieces of legislation, and again, as you mentioned last mark-up, they do an excellent job and we so much appreciate everybody’s collaboration on getting these important issues addressed.
I also want to thank Senators Sullivan and Markey today for their work related to the Coast Guard bill. We are just a few days away from celebrating the Coast Guard Day on August 4th, and this is a great piece of legislation to help in celebrating that. I appreciate Senator Markey’s work on the commercial fishing vessel safety part of this legislation, Senator Baldwin’s great lakes icebreaker authorization, Senator Peters’ oil spill improvements in Lake Michigan, Senator Blumenthal’s sexual assault prevention and support of the academy that is part of this legislation.
In the state of Washington we have a proud maritime heritage, so the Coast Guard is an integral part of our community, and this legislation moves the ball forward on important priorities, as the chair mentioned, for the men and women that work for the Coast Guard. We found out that the Coast Guard has one of the first paid family leave programs in the nation, and that was because the Coast Guard determined – with 40 percent of their work force being women – that they wanted to continue to promote them up the ranks, that they better figure out how to do a paid leave program. So this legislation continues to improve on that in several ways.
I also want to thank the chairman for this important legislation, which I believe is a milestone in the recognition that we are an Arctic nation. I believe that the Arctic is a national security issue. If we want ships to pass through the Arctic as other countries do – because it is a cheaper, faster way from Asia to Europe – and we want to have access to that in an untold way, and we want fishing and environmental issues to be addressed, we too need to recognize that we need an icebreaking fleet. So this legislation formally authorizes three new heavy icebreakers and three new medium icebreakers for the first time. I think this is a giant step forward in recognizing that we are an Arctic nation, and we plan to participate in the Northwest Passage.
I look forward to the work that will be done on other pieces of important legislation here, particularly in Puget Sound, and the need to protect the southern resident orcas. That is why this legislation moves the needle on orca conservation – in a better way to protect southern resident orcas in Puget Sound, it creates a pilot program based on successful pilot programs in Vancouver, British Columbia, to reduce the impact of vessel noise from large ships, and it also requires an assessment and recommendation to improve Coast Guard efforts to enforce vessel traffic buffer zones in Puget Sound.
Also, we know that it’s important for our communities to continue to improve safety, and that is why this bill requires a GAO study to make recommendations regarding tsunami vertical evacuation infrastructure needs. So much of Washington’s coast is populated by communities that don’t have the resources to prepare to the response, and so this bill will help in providing resources to make sure communities are planning for such an event.
The bill also, as the chairman mentioned, helps in the recruitment, retainment, and investment in women in the Coast Guard workforce, and even though the Coast Guard Academy is almost 40 percent women, the Coast Guard as a whole is only 15 percent, so we need to invest in recruiting and keeping this talent, and this bill will help take a major step forward. Also, the bill invests in vital child care facilities for the Coast Guard, and we so appreciate working across the aisle to make this part of the legislation.
Finally, the bill includes critical improvements to oil spill response and prevention. It responds to oil spill in the future, it mandates a requirement to update the U.S. research plan to improve oil spill response and prevention over ten years, and requires research and technology evaluation for all classes of oil, because the Coast Guard needs to be an expert on the technology that is needed if such a catastrophic event happens. So I want to again thank all the men and women who serve in the Coast Guard, thank Chairman Wicker, Senator Sullivan, and Senator Markey for working in such a bipartisan fashion on this bill.
Now, on the Pipelines Act, I too want to applaud the work of Senator Fischer and Senator Duckworth on this important legislation. Senator Duckworth’s contributions, not just as the ranking member, but increasing state grants for pipeline safety particularly, addressing the PHMSA workforce capacity issues, just strengthening what we need to do in this important area. I also thank the chairman for working on this issue, and I know at times provided some challenging issues for us to work through, but this year marks the 20th anniversary of a major pipeline explosion in Bellingham, Washington, where a series of negligent failures led to a spill of 237,000 gallons of gasoline and tragically claimed the lives of three young people.
So in response Congress, led by this committee, passed the Pipeline Safety Act of 2002 to strengthen regulation and improve pipeline safety. In last September, in Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts, systematic failures caused fires in three towns and killed a young man. So now this committee must act again to improve pipeline safety. The Pipes Act of 2019 contains important provisions by Senator Markey’s Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act, which will keep all our families and neighborhoods safer.
I also want to thank Senators Udall and Blumenthal for important issues raised in the amendments they filed for this bill. Leaky natural gas pipes pose a significant hazard, and are major contributors to global warming, so we should be requiring the use of the latest technology to detect and prevent methane leaks from these pipes. I am pleased that we were able to come to some agreement with Senator Udall’s gas-gathering lines amendment, and many of the unregulated gathering lines effectively pose the same risks as the regulated lines, so this amendment that is incorporated directs the Department of Transportation in finishing its gathering line rulemaking in a timely manner.
And I’d also like to see issues such as whistleblower civil penalties addressed before the Senate sees final passage of this legislation onto the House. So again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for working on two very important issues to all of America, and I thank my colleagues for working so diligently to resolve the last remaining issues.