The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to streamline the permitting and approval of interstate natural gas pipelines, which was approved late yesterday by a mostly party-line vote of 248-179.
The bill, known as the Promoting Interagency Coordination for Review of Natural Gas Pipelines Act (H.R.2910), requires the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to establish a schedule for concurrent review of natural gas pipeline projects by relevant agencies and to impose deadlines for their approval. Unlike previous versions of the bill, H.R.2910 stops short of automatically approving natural gas pipelines if agencies fail to meet these deadlines. Other provisions in the bill drew strong opposition, however.
Most environmental groups oppose the bill and only 13 out of 194 House Democrats voted in favor. Critics call the bill “a solution in search of a problem” given that most natural gas pipeline projects are already considered within one year. They warn the bill sacrifices thorough environmental review in favor of expediency and limits the ability of state and local governments, landowners, consumers and businesses to object to new pipelines. One provision requires the FERC to consider survey data collected by drones and other “aerial or remote means,” even if that data was collected without permission of the landowner. The bill also allows the FERC to grant conditional approval of a natural gas pipeline based solely on this information.
The House passed a separate bill to speed-up approval of petroleum and natural gas pipelines that cross the U.S. border with Canada and Mexico. The Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act (H.R.2883) replaces the Presidential Permit with an easier-to-obtain “certificate of crossing” from the FERC. Issuance of the certificate is based on a determination that the cross-border energy project is in the “public interest.” The certificate must be issued within 120 days in general and 30 days for natural gas. While the bill seeks to avoid the kinds of delays that have plagued the Keystone XL pipeline, there is concern with the preferential treatment given to natural gas.
These bills now advance to the Senate, where Energy Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Democrat Maria Cantwell (D-WA) prefer a more comprehensive and bipartisan approach to energy policy. Their bill (S.1460) may come to the Senate floor later this summer. A similar version was overwhelmingly approved in the previous Congress and almost became law last year.