WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday agreed to shift an additional $500,000 into next year’s budget for the federal office that oversees pipeline safety at the request of Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, who has recently taken heat from Arkansas Democrats over the issue.
Griffin took to the House floor to request additional spending in 2014 for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration citing the need for extra precautions in the wake of the Pegasus pipeline leak that spilled an estimated 147,000 gallons of oil into a neighborhood in Mayflower in March.
"I’m committed to making things right for the people of Mayflower and ensuring that another spill like this doesn’t occur again in Arkansas," Griffin said on the House floor.
Arkansas Democrats earlier in the day took issue with Griffin over his voting record on pipeline safety.
"Instead of trying to deflect blame and waging a public relations campaign, Congressman Griffin needs to explain his repeated votes against pipeline safety measures which were designed to prevent disasters like the Mayflower oil spill," said Candace Martin, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Arkansas.
Martin accused Griffin of "repeatedly voting" in favor of reducing federal spending on pipeline and hazardous material safety programs.
Griffin responded Tuesday, "I am proud to have a strong record of supporting pipeline safety — including the bipartisan Pipeline Safety Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2011. And just today, I secured additional resources for pipeline safety at no additional cost to hardworking taxpayers."
Martin said Griffin voted earlier this year to maintain federal sequester cuts that the Office of Management and Budget said would reduce the pipeline safety budget by $5 million this year.
Griffin said sequestration was "President Obama’s idea that impacts all of government. As you know, I’ve fought to replace it with sensible, targeted savings."
Martin also said Griffin voted in 2011 against an amendment that would have required oil and gas companies to have contingency plans for worst-case scenarios, including plans for oil containment and cleanup.
Griffin responded that his position on the amendment was that it was "redundant and duplicative of current requirements, and that’s why it failed. This vote is not about pipeline safety."
In making the pitch for the $500,000 in additional funding, Griffin reaffirmed his support for pipelines as being the safest mode of transport for oil. Only a tiny fraction of the 11.3 billion barrels of oil carried through the nation’s pipelines is spilled, he said.
"I know we can still make more certain the safety of our pipelines," Griffin said.
Griffin’s amendment shifts $500,000 from the Secretary of Transportation’s salary and expenses budget to the PHMSA administrative budget in Fiscal 2014 – raising the total for PHMSA to $21.65 million.
The Senate Appropriations Committee included the same $21.65 million for PHMSA in an appropriations bill it drafted in June. The two chambers, however, remain at odds over funding for pipeline safety.
The Senate committee bill includes $151.4 million for pipeline risk assessments, data analysis, safety inspections and support for state pipeline safety programs. The House bill includes $111.2 million for those purposes.
Also Tuesday, Griffin joined U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Mark Pryor, in a letter urging PHMSA to release information regarding the Mayflower oil spill or to cite the statutory requirement "preventing PHMSA from acting in the public interest."
In a letter Arkansas officials Monday, the head of ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. said the federal agency "defines the timing, type and amount of investigative information to share with appropriate stakeholders and the general public" during the ongoing investigation of the spill.
Arkansas News Bureau reporter John Lyon contributed to this report.