Speier and LaHood visit San Bruno blast site

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, right, and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo), left, look over the site of the pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., Thursday, May 19, 2011 as they tour with a team of federal officials. The explosion killed eight, injured dozens and destroyed 38 homes. They will be discussing safety reforms for the natural gas industry. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
May 19, 2011 9:14:06 PM PDT
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to the Bay Area Thursday. After meeting with victims of the San Bruno pipeline disaster he is promising to re-double efforts to increase the safety of the nation's oil and gas pipeline system.

LaHood and the head of the Pipeline Safety and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Cynthia Quarterman came to San Bruno, invited by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, to see the crater created by the explosion and the empty lots where 38 homes once stood and eight people died.

"There are some things we can do administratively and obviously we're going to work with the congresswoman and a couple of senators that have introduced a good bill," LaHood said.

But it is what the media was not allowed to see, a meeting with survivors of the Sept. 2010 explosion, that was most important to LaHood.

"My heart is full of sadness after meeting with the families; I don't recall another time in my 35 years of public service when I have ever felt as sad as I do today," LaHood said.

The National Transportation Safety Board report on the probable cause of the pipe rupture is expected in August, the same time that LaHood has promised new regulations tightening up pipeline safety.

"We need to fix America's pipeline system," LaHood said.

LaHood said he is also doing what he can to help push through new legislation, including a bill authored by Speier.

"Public officials entrusted with the responsibility to protect our communities can never forget the lives lost, the lives scarred and the town ravaged," Speier said.

San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane said that until Thursday, he was afraid that the San Bruno disaster might be forgotten.

"My greatest fear was that the hole gets filled and the street gets paved and someone comes up to me in four or five years and says, 'Did you have a fire here a while ago?'" Ruane said. "That's not going to happen. If there was ever a doubt in anybody's mind that this is not a national issue, it's been dispelled today."

Among the changes LaHood is calling for are an increase in civil penalties for safety violations, increasing the number of safety professionals monitoring the nation's pipeline system and closing the loopholes pipeline operators use to evade safety regulations.

After touring San Bruno, PG&E President Chris Johns led a tour of a gas distribution replacement project in San Francisco's Sunset District where eight-inch distribution cast-iron pipes from the 1940s are being replaced with polyethylene pipes.


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