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House panel revives plan to jack up pipeline fines 4,900 percent

House panel revives plan to jack up pipeline fines 4,900 percent

Dustin Hurst
February 12, 2016
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February 12, 2016

The House State Affairs revived a plan to boost possible fine for pipeline accidents by 4,900 percent, albeit with some changes.

The committee killed this measure’s first iteration over concerns that the bill was unnecessary and nothing more than window dressing.

The legislation, sponsored by the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, would boost safety violation fines for pipeline companies by 4,900 percent. In raw dollars, the bill would increase daily fines from $2,000 to $100,000 and increase the total fine cap from $2,000 to $1 million.

Regarding the bill’s former version, commission member Paul Kjellander told legislative committee members the plan would serve as a “halfway point” between Idaho’s fining levels and amounts the federal government believes states should issue.

The new version also includes policy statements -- or intent language -- instructing the commission to seek compliance and not penalties, and to consider whether other agencies have already assessed fines for a safety violation. The new bill also mandates that pipeline company shareholders will pay any fines assessed.

“The shareholders are on the hook for a penalty, not the customers,” Kjellander told the panel.

This time around, Kjellander slightly altered his presentation to the panel. During Thursday’s hearing he stressed proper oversight and using the additional fine authority to leverage companies into compliance.

During hearings on the previous bill, he told legislators the jacked up fines would bring in additional federal dollars, plus prevent a public relations mess after an accident. He omitted those details from his testimony Thursday.

The committee approved a full hearing, but not without dissent. Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, worried the language might be overly broad and could lead to unintended consequences.
Batt also intimated the fine caps might be too high for her taste.

Batt opposed introduction, as did Reps. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, and Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton.

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