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After Merrimack Valley Crisis, Moulton, Trahan Push Congress To Boost Pipeline Protections

In this Sept. 14, 2018, file photo, a Columbia Gas crew works to make sure there are no gas leaks at the corner of Parker and Salem streets in Lawrence. (Mary Schwalm/AP)
In this Sept. 14, 2018, file photo, a Columbia Gas crew works to make sure there are no gas leaks at the corner of Parker and Salem streets in Lawrence. (Mary Schwalm/AP)

Congressman Seth Moulton said the utility Columbia Gas should shut down, and its successor should be held to tougher federal safety rules to prevent the pipeline blasts that rocked the Merrimack Valley last fall from ever happening again.

"Frankly that company should be out of business. That’s what should happen,” Moulton told WBUR after testifying alongside fellow Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan to urge House lawmakers to add new safety requirements as it works to reauthorize the Pipeline Safety Act.

"This is so serious," Moulton said. "And we are going to make sure that we not only hold Columbia Gas accountable, but that whatever gas company comes next will be held accountable as well. We can’t let this ever happen again.”

Trahan and Moulton appeared before a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee in charge of vetting the reauthorization the federal Pipeline Safety Act. They said the accident, which killed 18-year-old Leonel Rondon of Lawrence and injured 23 others, has left residents in fear that they are still in danger.

Trahan praised Massachusetts legislators for repealing a law exempting gas companies from rules requiring a professionally licensed engineer at construction projects.

She urged Congress to eliminate those exemptions nationwide and strengthen other pipeline safeguards.

“It’s very much my duty to make sure at a minimum that we put a focus on a bright light on pipeline safety,” Trahan told WBUR.

Trahan said that lawmakers will have a better idea of the breadth of needed reforms after the National Transportation Safety Board releases its final report on the explosions.

Moulton also called for more and better oversight by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which gave Massachusetts high marks just prior to the blasts.

In a statement, Dean Lieberman, a spokesman for Columbia Gas’ parent company NiSource, said the company took “a number of tangible safety steps” since September, and called the Capitol Hill hearing “the beginning of an important process as Congress seeks to reauthorize critical pipeline safety measures, and we welcome this.

“We look forward to many more engagements with our government and industry partners to discuss these and other safety steps more in-depth,” Lieberman said.

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Kimberly Atkins Twitter Senior News Correspondent
Kimberly Atkins is a senior news correspondent for WBUR, covering national political news from Washington, D.C., with a New England focus.

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