Eustace Bill to Crack Down on Environmental Pollution, Increase Accountability Released by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrat Tim Eustace to increase accountability when it comes to oil and natural gas leaks was advanced by an Assembly panel on Thursday.

Eustace’s bill (A-436) would require natural gas pipeline utilities to repair or replace pipelines that leak natural gas, within time frames to be established by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) or face steep penalties.

Methane, the primary component in natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, methane is 20 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Methane accounts for nine percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, making it the second most prevalent greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide.

Over 60 percent of total methane emissions come from human activities such as industry, agriculture, and waste management. Of these activities, natural gas and petroleum systems are the second-largest source, representing 29 percent of all methane emissions from human activity. Several reports have shown that leaking natural gas pipelines are a major source of methane emissions.

“Most state and federal laws and regulations pertaining to natural gas pipelines focus primarily on health and safety issues, but not the environment,” added Eustace. “This bill would address the climate change impacts from natural gas pipeline leaks by requiring gas utilities to repair or replace leaking pipelines in a timely fashion.”

Under the bill, the DEP, in consultation with the Board of Public Utilities, would be required to adopt regulations establishing inspection and reporting requirements, prioritized time frames for the repair and replacement of pipelines based on the severity of leaks, best practices and repair standards, and de minimis exceptions to the repair and replacement requirements.

A natural gas pipeline utility that fails to comply with these requirements would be subject to the penalties set forth in the “Air Pollution Control Act of 1954,” including a civil fine of up to $10,000 for the first offense, $25,000 for the second offense, and $50,000 for a third or subsequent offense.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee. It will now go to the Assembly Speaker.