By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
LANSING — There’s been much discussion over what the true intent is for House Bill 4540.
HB4540, commonly referred to as the “pipeline secrecy bill,” would allow energy companies to conceal information about oil and gas pipelines, high-powered electrical lines and other critical energy infrastructure from both terrorists and the public.
The bill was introduced by state Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth Township, back in May 2015. Discussion of the bill had fallen off until recently, when the Flint water crisis began making national news.
State Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, said the bill’s main purpose is to keep terrorists away from the state’s energy infrastructure – not residents or the media.
“I think this bill is being politicized for very strange reasons. This has to do with our energy infrastructure. That’s the power lines, not pipelines,” Pscholka said. “Things like this get skewed all the time. Everyone is hypersensitive to water lines right now. There are environmental groups that will take an issue like this and politicize it for their own purpose.”
Pscholka said the water lines wouldn’t fall under the bill’s criteria, as residents could still visit their municipality’s town hall to be shown the schematics of the city’s lines.
The bill sits in the House Committee on Oversight and Ethics.
HB4540 is not on the fast track either, as Pscholka said there appears to be no support or opposition on the bill’s analysis report within the House.
“You want to have some degree of security for your substations. You don’t want terrorists to FOIA where these things are,” Pscholka said. “It’s unfortunate because the public is misinformed. There is no angle of hiding necessary info of water lines.”
Critics of the bill have said it protects oil and gas companies from public disclosures about safety and other records.
The bill would be exempt from disclosure under the state’s Freedom of Information Act information about existing and proposed energy infrastructure.
State Rep. Dave Pagel, R-Berrien Springs, said he hasn’t had a good chance to review the bill because it hasn’t gone through committee yet.
However, Pagel agrees the bill would not affect the public’s information access to water pipelines.
“It’s time to walk that tightrope between that line of respecting the public’s access to the state’s infrastructure and maintaining the public’s safety,” he said. “But it’s not a blanket exemption where everything can be hidden from the public.”
While the bill has not entered Michigan’s Senate, state Sen. John Proos said he has kept an eye on it.
Proos, R-St. Joseph, said the bill would no doubt come his way as he is the vice chairman for the Energy and Technology Committee.
The bill was last heard before the Natural Resources Committee in December 2015. Proos said the bill has been through many iterations, as the bill’s history shows eight different drafts from the original bill of introduction.
“I think it’s important the public understands the state’s infrastructure is often under threat by those who would like to bring it to a grinding halt through a terrorist attack,” Proos said. “There were over 2.5 million web browser attacks in 2013. According to the Department of Homeland Security, 53 percent of those attacks were against the energy sector.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 6, 2016)