Press Releases

Reps. Trahan and Moulton, and Senators Markey and Warren Applaud Inclusion of “Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act” in Year-End Spending Bill

Massachusetts lawmakers introduced legislation in the wake of Merrimack Valley gas explosion

Washington (December 22, 2020) – Representative Lori Trahan (MA-03), Representative Seth Moulton (MA-08), Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), applauded the inclusion of their Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act as part of the year-end spending package. The lawmakers introduced the legislation in response to the catastrophic gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts on September 13, 2018, which resulted in the death of 18-year-old Leonel Rondon, dozens of injuries, damage to more than 100 homes, and thousands of homes left without natural gas service for months.

“More than two years after the tragic and preventable Merrimack Valley gas explosions impacted thousands of families in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, our legislation to prevent another disaster like this is finally on the cusp of becoming law,” said Rep. Trahan. “For too long, outdated and insufficient safety regulations have failed the communities they were supposed to protect. Today’s passage of the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act will apply the many lessons taken from this tragedy – including those informed by NTSB’s experts – to ensure that no community ever has to experience this type of terrible devastation again.”

“Passage of the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act pays honor and tribute to the life of Leonel Rondon and serves as a small justice for the Merrimack Valley community,” said Senator Markey. “The natural gas explosions that struck Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover more than two years ago were yet another example of corporations cutting corners to turn a profit. The passage of this legislation is a critical step in ensuring that we prioritize public safety over corporate profit and never allow a tragic disaster like this to happen again. I thank Senators Wicker, Cantwell, Fischer and Duckworth, and Chairmen Pallone and DeFazio for their leadership on this legislation.”

“The Merrimack Valley pipeline explosions could have been completely avoided if Columbia Gas executives had valued safety over profits,” said Senator Warren. “The passing of the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act honors the memory of a young man killed by the reckless gas explosion and will strengthen regulatory safety laws to help prevent disasters like this from happening again.”

“Leonel Rondon's death was preventable, and no family in America should lose their son or daughter because of a pipeline disaster,” said Rep. Moulton. “The Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act will allow Congress to start holding companies like Columbia Gas responsible for the safety of their customers. It’s a first step to help restore peace of mind in communities across the country who are living in fear that their home, school or business is going to explode because the people responsible for preventing pipeline accidents are asleep at the switch.”

Specifically, the provisions from the legislation that are included in the year-end spending bill:

  • Improve emergency response coordination with the public and first responders, ensuring information is shared and residents are not left in the dark
  • Require the use of qualified employees, such as professional engineers, to approve gas engineering plans or significant changes to the system
  • Promote best industry practices for holistic safety management
  • Mandate on-site monitoring of gas system pressure by qualified employees during construction so that a dangerous situation can be stopped before it happens
  • Require regulator stations – which are critical to preventing over-pressurizations – to be configured in such a way so that there are technological redundancies tha can keep disasters from taking place
  • Require natural gas distribution system operators to assemble traceable, reliable, and complete maps and records of key pressure controls of the pipeline system, and to ensure that those records are accessible for anyone doing construction or engineering work on the system.

“We want to thank Senator Markey and Congresswoman Trahan for putting forth this legislation, focused on creating safer living environments for all Americans, making it so that the tragedies faced in the Merrimack Valley won’t ever happen anywhere else,” said Mayor Daniel Rivera of Lawrence. “The Merrimack Valley Gas Explosion was an example of an egregious oversight for corporate gain and showed how much work needed to be done to create equitable living standards. These provisions directed towards this work will improve accountability, emergency response, and on-site monitoring in all matters relating to pipeline safety.” 

“I want to thank the federal delegation for their landmark legislation to hold public utility companies accountable, strengthen safety standards, and prevent natural gas disasters in the future,” said Senator Barry Finegold (D-Andover). “The Columbia Gas explosions devastated our local community. A young man lost his life, families spent months homeless, and many lost all their belongings. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with state and federal officials to increase regulatory oversight of the natural gas industry and help the Merrimack Valley recover from the Columbia Gas tragedy.”

“We are deeply grateful to Sen. Markey for his leadership on this bill, which will create new safety and environmental rules for the pipeline industry,” Elgie Holstein, Sr. Director for Strategic Planning at the Environmental Defense Fund. “It will mean more protection for people living near natural gas pipelines and less gas leaking into the environment and contributing to climate change.”   

“The Pipeline Safety Trust is thrilled the PIPES Bill has been passed,” said Bill Caram, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust. “Along with providing more funding for PHMSA, we are happy to see progress being made on public transparency.  We are also pleased that for the first time, operators will need to address the serious environmental effects from pipelines that, up until now, have been allowed to leak methane as a regular course of business.”