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'No More Slaps On The Wrist': Markey, Trahan Propose Pipeline Bill With Far Stiffer Penalties

An aerial view of the damaged home in Lawrence where 18-year-old Leonel Rondon was killed due to the gas explosions. (Courtesy National Transportation Safety Board)
An aerial view of the damaged home in Lawrence where 18-year-old Leonel Rondon was killed due to the gas explosions. (Courtesy National Transportation Safety Board)

Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Lori Trahan said Monday they will introduce federal legislation aimed at increasing gas pipeline safety, in response to explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley last fall.

Proposed changes include subjecting more pipeline projects to approvals by professional engineers and requiring onsite monitoring of gas pressure during pipeline construction work.

The bill includes significantly stiffer penalties for safety violations, according to a draft. Currently, the U.S. Department of Transportation can fine a company $200,000 per day, up to a total of $2 million; Markey and Trahan propose raising those penalties to $20 million and $200 million, respectively.

"There will be no more slaps on the wrist, no parking tickets, no penalties that don't reflect the magnitude of the deadly disaster," Markey said at a news conference in Lawrence. "The days of sloppy safety culture must be considered to be over."

Markey and Trahan said they will name the bill in honor of Leonel Rondon, the Lawrence teen who died in the September disaster involving a Columbia Gas pipeline.

"Our family is honored that his name will be placed on this law, which is so important for public safety," said Rondon's sister, Lucianny Rondon.

Dean Lieberman, a spokesman for Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, said in a statement that the company  has "already adopted the vast majority of the [bill's] critical safety provisions — from automatic shutoff devices to safety management systems to enhanced mapping to emergency preparedness and beyond. We recognize the importance of rebuilding public confidence when it comes to pipeline safety, and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress, our industry partners, and other stakeholders on this important mission."

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Callum Borchers Twitter Reporter
Callum covers the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.

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