CAPITOL HILL – The House is making it easier for companies to build natural gas pipelines.
Two measures approved last Wednesday were touted by Republicans as means to streamline the approval process for oil and natural gas pipelines. The Promoting Interagency Coordination for Review of Natural Gas Pipelines Act, which passed by a 248-179 vote, codifies that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) act as the lead environmental review agency for projects and sets deadlines for other state and local agencies to ask FERC to become participating agencies, as well as deadlines for FERC to issue permit decisions. The Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act undoes an executive order saying a presidential permit is needed to build an oil or gas pipeline or electric transmission facility that crosses the border with Mexico or Canada. That bill passed with a 254-175 vote.
“These are commonsense reforms that reduce interagency bureaucracy, and I think that we can all agree that permitting should be more transparent and more accountable,” said Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas-17), the sponsor of the first bill.
Republicans also spoke of the need for the U.S. to become energy independent and to foster economic growth, which they argue the bills help achieve.
“It is so important for us to begin to simplify and clean up the rules and the regulation process so that we do provide certainty not only for our constituents, but also for industry,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.-7). “In addition to that, Mr. Chairman, what we do is to provide hope to millions of workers who work in the energy sector.”
Democrats, meanwhile, said the FAST Act passed last year already creates a system to streamline energy infrastructure permits: the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council, making the Republicans’ bills duplicative. They also pointed to the threat of climate change, which they feel requires more careful review of the environmental impacts of projects, not less.
“Congress has already taken action to streamline the federal environmental permitting review process for major infrastructure projects. Sometimes our memories are short, but it was just last Congress,” said Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.-14). “We should be examining the carbon impact of every pipeline before we approve it.”
Dems also argued that fast-tracking the approval process provides fewer opportunities for residents and landowners to raise concerns with the project and its effect on their community. Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.-2) pointed to a recent attempt to build a pipeline in her district that the residents stopped through concerted effort.
“The bills we are considering today would do nothing to elevate the concerns of impacted communities during the FERC proceedings, and these bills aim to jam through risky pipeline projects while constraining other agencies from concluding important environmental reviews,” she said. “We all know that FERC acts as a rubber stamp for fossil fuel projects, and the bills we are considering today further narrow the opportunities for private landowners to push back against projects and try to protect their land from eminent domain.”