An estimated 2.5 million miles of pipelines carrying natural gas and hazardous materials crisscross the United States. Accidents occur on a fairly regular basis.
One occurred last month in West Virginia, when a 20-inch gas line exploded. Flames shot all the way across an interstate highway. Several homes were destroyed.
Last Monday, a hearing on pipeline safety was held in Charleston by the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Well, not exactly. Only one member of the panel, Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., showed up for the hearing. Sen. Joe Manchin, also D-W.Va., attended despite not being a member of the committee.
Rockefeller arranged the hearing, though it was not a re-election stunt. Rockefeller already has revealed he will not run in 2014.
Apparently, then, Rockfeller thought pipeline safety is an important enough issue for his committee to take testimony on it. He and Manchin heard plenty about the dangers of pipelines and what is being done about them.
But the committee's other 23 members - 12 Democrats and 11 Republicans - apparently didn't think hearing an update on pipeline safety was worth leaving Washington.
Perhaps Rockefeller didn't push them to attend. They can read testimony from the hearing at their leisure - or, more likely, have their staffs read it, after all. But the number of no-shows for the hearing isn't exactly a recipe for increasing public confidence in Congress.