Public Utilities Commission Gas Utility Safety Inspection Authority
The act declares that, due to recent dramatic increases in both the extraction and transportation of natural gas and the construction of new homes and businesses in close proximity to these activities, as well as the environmental risks posed by methane leakage, it is appropriate to strengthen and streamline Colorado's laws governing gas pipeline safety.
In furtherance of strengthening and streamlining those laws, the act updates and clarifies the duty of the public utilities commission (PUC) to collaborate with the United States department of transportation (DOT) on pipeline safety issues by:
- Formally accepting responsibility to enforce DOT pipeline safety rules; and
- Adopting rules at the state level as needed to comply with federal requirements. The PUC's rules may be more stringent than required by federal standards in specified areas. In particular, the PUC is directed to assemble maps of all pipelines within its jurisdiction, increase the frequency of inspections, and employ advanced leak detection technology.
Additionally, the act amends existing penalty provisions for pipeline safety violations by:
- Increasing the penalty cap from $100,000 per violation to $200,000, and increasing the maximum aggregate total for a series of violations from $1 million to $2 million;
- Allowing the PUC to recover court costs if it must sue to recover any penalty assessed against a violator; and
- Requiring any compromise of a penalty to be based on objective metrics and factors, including the severity of the violation, the extent to which the violator has remedied the conditions that led to the violation, and the amount the violator agrees to spend on approved measures to reduce future risk. Any such compromise may not reduce the amount payable as a penalty below $5,000 per violation.
The act appropriates $423,448 from the general fund to the department of regulatory agencies for use by the public utilities commission to implement the act, with $53,170 reappropriated to the department of law for legal services provided to the commission.
(Note: This summary applies to this bill as enacted.)