House, Senate battle over funding issues

August 1, 2001 By    

President Bush has nominated Ellen Engleman as administrator of the Research and Special Programs Administration. Engleman, awaiting Senate confirmation, is chief executive officer of Elecricore, a public-private energy solutions partnership based in Indianapolis.

Engleman comes as no stranger to the Department of Transportation. In 1999, she won several contracts from DOT totaling more than $4 million to create cleaner, quieter, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Engleman takes over an agency with a budget in flux.

The House passed a fiscal year 2002 appropriations bill for the department that tells RSPA to clean up its act before it gets more money to clean up more pipelines. The House charges that “RSPA has not developed a strategic plan that assesses realistic needs or provides realistic cost estimates, plans and goals associated with the large increases requested.” Instead, it orders RSPA to develop a plan to modernize its operations by October 2002.

But the Senate Appropriations Committee notes the serous deficiencies in the safety of moving HAZMAT materials and passed a bill providing even more money than the agency requested.

The House would grant RSPA’s request for six new employees to work on HAZMAT matters. The added funds would pay for two new field evaluators and four researcher/engineers.

Overall, the House would allow RSPA to add 20 new people, six fewer than the budget request. Noting that RSPA hadn’t filled four new pipeline slots created last year, the House denied the agency’s request for $690,000 to add four new program and business support personnel.

The Senate measure, however, would pay for all 26 requested positions.

The House bill also would cut RSPA’s research and development planning budget by $1.7 million, saying that the agency appears to be duplicating its efforts.

The House denied the agency’s request for $4.9 million for a new integrity management program to enforce new pipeline management rules. But the Senate bill would give RSPA $7.9 million – $3 million more than it wanted.

House appropriations said they can’t find the money RSPA wants to create a review process, train inspectors, etc. But the House would allow RSPA to use up to $1 million in other funds for such activities.

The Senate committee noted that RSPA needs all the help it can get to enforce the new pipeline safety regulations that take effect next year. The Senate allotment includes $750,000 for training federal and state staff, interpret industry-supplied data, inspect new lines and improve information systems.

Finally, the House rejected RSPA’s request to fund the HAZMAT safety program with user fees as RSPA planned to do with the new bobtail fee schedules enacted this year. Congress hasn’t yet given RSPA the authority to raise the $12 million needed to finance the program entirely with fees by 2003, as RSPA proposes.

The committee says “it is unwilling to have the same segment of the industry fully fund the federal government’s entire hazardous materials safety program.”

The House would provide an overall pipeline safety appropriation of $48.5 million, a 3 percent increase over 2001. More than $41 million would come from the Pipeline Safety Fund. and $7.5 million from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. RSPA also would get the $200,000 it requested to update its emergency response training curriculum.

The more generous Senate would provide $58.75 million, almost $5 million more than the administration’s budget. The Senate committee also noted that the Pipeline Safety Reserve Fund includes about $11.9 million collected from user fees, and says RSPA should use $2.5 million of it for safety programs next year.

The Senate bill would provide $4.7 million for research – $1.9 million more than requested – with $600,000 earmarked for airborne environmental laser mapping technology research and engineering to improve leak detection, analysis and response.

The Senate bill also would grant the administration’s request for $21 million for hazardous material safety programs.

The bill contains $400,000 for a study on truck drivers’ fatigue. The committee wants to learn how drivers manage on overnight hauls.

  • Pipeline workshop
    RSPA plans a workshop Oct. 10-11 in Houston on Pipeline Integrity Management in High Consequence Areas.
    Officials will discuss and seek input on the new regs for hazardous liquid operators with 500 or more pipeline miles. For details, contact Beth Callsen, (202) 366-4572,
  • RSPA reporting
    If an accident involving propane occurs, you may have to report it to RSPA, even if you don’t transport it.
    RSPA has proposed changing its incident reporting requirements for HAZMAT in an attempt to make reports more useful.
    The proposed rule says that anyone in possession of product during transport, such as terminal and storage tank operators, would have to report incidents. The agency took one round of public suggestions and has issued a proposal for another round.
    Other RSPA ideas:
    * Allow electronic
    filing to reduce industry paperwork. It would develop a system that could accept reports by fax, e-mail, electronic file transfers, etc.
    * Use one form
    for all types of incidents on the grounds that multiple forms would confuse filers. But RSPA will ask for more details about types of transportation and packaging to improve its incident database.
    * Remove the requirement
    that operators report by phone all incidents involving property damage exceeding $50,000. Commenters complained that the level “is arbitrary and has not been adjusted to reflect inflation.”
    RSPA would also replace the admittedly vague “immediate notification” requirement with one stating that operators
    must call RSPA “as soon as practicable following the occurrence of an incident” but always within 12 hours.
    Everyone would have to update reports any time during the year following an incident in case of a death resulting from the event, data need corrections, and new costs become known or the damage/cost estimates become revised by more than $25,000.
    Despite protests, RSPA proposes to require that it get reports of incidents involving structural damage even when no HAZMAT gets released. True, operators have another burden. But the reports could provide valuable info on when packaging can resist collisions.
    Details: July 3 Federal Register. Send comments by Oct. 1 to Dockets Management System, U.S. Department of Transportation, Room PL 401, 400 7th St. SW, Washington, DC 20590-0001. Identify docket number RSPA-99-5013 (HM-229). Submit two copies.

  • LIHEAP dollars
    As Congress gets down to debate over a long-term national energy policy, it seems likely to provide one additional pot of help soon. Both houses passed a fiscal year 2001 supplemental appropriations bill adding $300 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The measure goes to conference to resolve other differences.
    Meanwhile, the administration gave Congress some advice: authorizing plenty of money doesn’t necessarily help. Many bills would significantly increase authorization for low-income energy assistance.
    But the bills won’t mean much if Congress doesn’t appropriate the money, warned David Garman, assistant secretary for energy efficiency & renewable energy at the Department of Energy. Garman spoke at a hearing on energy legislation of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee.
    “As we work together in the weeks and months ahead to determine the appropriate authorization levels for these programs, I urge that there be some linkage between the authorized levels and a realistic expectation of the eventual appropriations that will follow,” Garman testified.
    Pending legislation would allow up to $500 million a year for the Weatherization Assistance Program. The fiscal year 2001 level totals only $153 million and the administration proposed increasing it to $273 million for fiscal year 2002.

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