Companies that allow natural gas pipelines to deteriorate and break, sometimes explosively, can be forced to pay stiff federal fines - but only if the lines in question cross state borders. Local pipelines entirely within a state are not regulated by the federal government.
But a bill approved by the West Virginia Legislature, at Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's request, will change that. It will allow the state Public Service Commission to levy fines of as much as $2 million per incident in situations where negligence is to blame for pipeline disasters.
Many gas pipelines are decades, even generations old. Too often, little or no maintenance is performed on them until gas leaks bring deterioration to companies' attention.
That needs to change.
When good-faith efforts are being made to keep pipelines in good condition, state officials should work with companies, not burden them and customers with fines. But a few stiff fines when negligence is involved may deter gas companies from simply burying pipelines and forgetting them.