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W.Va. Legislature OK steeper pipeline safety fines

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A recent fiery pipeline explosion has West Virginia poised to stiffen safety violation fines.

A unanimous state Senate voted Friday to send Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin his legislation raising state penalties to federal levels.

Fines levied by the Public Service Commission would soar from $1,000 to $200,000 per violation. Maximum penalties per incident would jump from $200,000 to $2 million.

The bill applies to an estimated 11,100 miles of pipeline that run within the state's borders. Federal rules apply to interstate transmission lines, such as the one in Sissonville that ruptured in December. No one was killed, but the resulting inferno destroyed a section of highway and four homes.

The House passed Tomblin's bill in February. It also bars violators from recoup fines by hiking utility rates.