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Higher Fines Backed for Natural Gas Law

A House panel on Wednesday approved a proposal that would increase state civil penalties for interrupting the transmission and distribution of natural gas. Under what is known as the Gas Safety Law of 1967, the Florida Public Service Commission can impose penalties from a maximum of $25,000 for a single violation to $500,000 for a related series of violations. The proposal (HB 81), sponsored by Rep. Robbie Brackett, R-Vero Beach, would increase the fines to be on par with a federal law, which includes a maximum civil penalty of $257,664 for each pipeline-safety violation and $2,576,627 for any related series of violations. The federal law gives states authority over intrastate gas pipelines. But a state House staff analysis said the Public Service Commission was notified this year that the authorization was in jeopardy because of Florida’s lower penalties. The analysis said the federal government’s position is that the state’s lower fines “may reduce the PSC’s enforcement capabilities.” Brackett said his proposal would “allow the Public Service Commission to maintain full delegated inspection enforcement authority over the natural gas utilities within the state.” The bill, approved Wednesday by the House Energy, Communications & Cybersecurity Subcommittee, needs approval from the Commerce Committee before it could go to the full House during the 2024 legislative session, which will start in January. Sen. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, has filed an identical measure (SB 366) in the Senate.