This was a week of rough encounters between Santa Barbara County and the federal agency most responsible for ensuring the safety of interstate oil pipelines, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, better known as PHMSA. The county supervisors took exception to the new set of safety rules the agency released in the wake of the Plains All American pipeline rupture of May 19 by Refugio.
A majority of the board declared the regulations were a step in the right direction but didn’t go nearly far enough. Specifically, they declared PHMSA should adopt new rules requiring pipeline operators to install automatic shutdown valves. The board letter declared such equipment both “feasible and warranted,” noting that all major pipeline companies operating in Santa Barbara County use them with the exception of Plains. Likewise, the board stated the environmental damage inflicted by the Plains spill “could have been minimized” if such equipment had been utilized.
The same week, the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) sued PHMSA, charging the federal agency violated the federal Freedom of Information Act by failing to respond to its request for documents pertaining to the inspection and enforcement records of the ruptured pipeline. EDC made its first information demand a few days after the spill. Since August, the lawsuit alleges, there’s been no communication at all from the federal agency. A spokesperson said it’s PHMSA’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.