Spurred by a fatal pipeline explosion last month, the Senate has approved legislation that would tighten up regulatory and testing requirements for pipeline operators and sharply raise penalties for violations. The bill was approved unanimously on Sept. 7. There has been no action yet in the House.

The Senate measure would require the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, which regulates pipeline safety, to implement recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board and DOT's own Inspector General. It also would mandate that operators do periodic inspections of their pipelines' integrity, including "internal inspections, pressure testing, direct assesment or other effective methods."

In addition, the legislation would boost the maximum civil penalty for safety violations to $500,000 per day, from the current $25,000, and increase the fine for a series of related violations to $1 million, from $500,000 now. It authorizes $56 million over three years for federal pipeline safety programs.

Senate commerce committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the bill came largely in response to two pipeline accidents: a 1999 gasoline pipeline explosion in Bellingham, Wash., that claimed three lives, and an Aug. 19 natural gas pipeline explosion in Carlsbad, N.M., that killed 12. "We simply must act now to remedy identified safety problems and improve pipeline safety," McCain said.