When U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visits Allentown on Monday he will announce plans to streamline oversight of pipelines and improve communication among federal, state and local governments and private companies.
LaHood invited CEOs of pipeline companies to Washington this week for a private meeting to discuss pipeline safety efforts.
During his visit, LaHood will tour the site of the Feb. 9 natural gas explosion that killed five people and led to the demolition of eight homes. LaHood also plans to talk about the president's budget proposal to increase funding for federal safety professionals, a Department of Transportation spokeswoman said this week.
LaHood testified Tuesday before the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies about Obama's proposal to put more money toward closing regulatory loopholes and improving pipeline safety oversight.
The administration's 2012 budget calls for $221 million for the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to "help ensure that families, communities and the environment are unharmed by the transport of chemicals and fuels on which our economy relies," LaHood said in a statement.
The condition of the cast-iron gas pipeline snaking through Allentown remains a top concern for city residents and politicians. The cracked pipe dug up five days after the explosion at 13th and Allen streets dates to 1928 and has been sent to a New Jersey laboratory for testing.
Officials from UGI Corp. said earlier this month at a hearing in Allentown that it will take the company 40 years to replace its entire system of cast-iron pipes. The company also said the pipeline at the explosion site had little to no "leak history" and was not considered a priority.
Statewide, there are 11,000 miles of aging gas pipelines like the one implicated in the Allentown explosion because lawmakers, regulators and gas companies have not agreed on how to accelerate pipeline replacement, a reform that several other states figured out years ago.
Federal investigators in 1992 warned UGI about its aging system in Allentown, saying the company probably would need to replace miles of corroding pipeline to reduce the threat to public safety. The company has said it spends $20 million a year upgrading pipelines.