LAWRENCE (CBS) – Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Lori Trahan officially announced legislation Monday aimed at preventing a disaster similar to the Merrimack Valley explosions. The bill is named after Leonel Rondon, who was killed the day of the explosions.
Just a little over six months ago, an over-pressurized gas line set off hundreds of explosions in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence. Rondon, who was 18 at the time, was killed when a chimney collapsed on him.
The new bill, called the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act, focuses on saving lives and holding utility companies like Columbia Gas responsible.
Markey and Trahan stood with city and town leaders from Lawrence, Andover and North Andover as well as Rondon’s family at the announcement Monday. Markey said he’s heard the explosions be referred to as Armageddon, but he describes the incident in another way.
“I call it completely preventable. It never had to happen,” he said. “We owe it to the American people to put in place requirements to ensure that no other natural gas company is allowed to short change safety ever again. That is what the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act aims to do.”
Rondon’s sister Lucianny spoke after the bill was introduced.
“Now it is time for Congress, the press, and the courts to do whatever is necessary to ensure this kind of disaster never happens again to other families here in Lawrence, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or anywhere else in the United States,” Lucianny Rondon said.
Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said, “The lack of pipeline safety caused the death of a young kind in Lawrence. And his name was Leonel Rondon. And no one should ever forget that.”
One of the major takeaways with this bill are the consequences for companies like Columbia Gas. The proposal would ensure that the punishment goes up 100 fold.
If approved, the bill would allow fines for a single violation to increase from a maximum of $200,000 to a maximum of $20 million. In addition, companies would be responsible for up to $200 million if a disaster like the one in the Merrimack Valley happened, unlike the current $2 million limit.
Dean Lieberman, a spokesman for Columbia Gas of Massachusetts and NiSource, its parent company, released a statement about the proposed legislation.
Upon initial review of the initiatives released today, we can say we have already adopted the vast majority of the critical safety provisions—from automatic shut off devices to Safety Management Systems to enhanced mapping to emergency preparedness and beyond. We recognize the importance of rebuilding public confidence when it comes to pipeline safety, and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress, our industry partners, and other stakeholders on this important mission. We share the desire to enhance pipeline safety as that is our top priority and guides all of our actions. Ever since the tragic event of September 13th, we have been taking tangible and forward-looking safety steps so something like that won’t happen again.
A hearing on the “right now” safety regulations in place and what needs to change will be held on Wednesday.
Trahan called the proposal “common sense legislation.”