By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The two U.S. Senators representing California said on Friday they will propose a federal task force to investigate the cause and response to the massive natural gas leak near Los Angeles.
Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein announced they will introduce an amendment to a national energy bill being debated by the Senate that would direct U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to lead a task force that will recommend how to solve the ongoing methane leak and prevent future incidents.
Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility, which sprung a leak in October that has not yet been sealed, has raised alarms about the danger of aging oil and gas infrastructure.
There is little oversight of the 400 underground natural gas storage facilities in 30 U.S. states.
"We have a responsibility not only to address this leak, but also to ensure nothing like this ever happens again," Feinstein said in a statement.
The amendment is one of nearly 100 that senators have introduced or plan to offer next week, as the Senate works to pass the country's first major energy bill in over eight years. The bill, which aims to modernize the country's aging energy infrastructure, is one of the few in Congress to have bipartisan support.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell said he expects the legislation to pass late next week, after members vote on the list of amendments.
The California senators' proposal would direct Moniz to lead a six-member intergovernmental task force to study the impacts of the leak on affected communities as well as the environment and issue its findings within six months.
Those findings and subsequent updates would help agencies such as the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) help respond to the leak.
The task force would recommend whether to continue operations at Aliso Canyon and other facilities in close proximity to densely populated areas.
Other amendments the Senate will consider next week include a proposal by Michigan Democrats to deal with another environmental crisis - lead water contamination in Flint.
The proposal would also direct $200 million for a research center to focus on the needs of children, and would also require the EPA to warn the public of high lead levels in drinking water if a state fails to do so.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, editing by G Crosse)