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House Energy Bill Would Speed Up NatGas Project Reviews, But Veto Likely

The House of Representatives passed an energy bill Thursday with language that would, among other things, speed up federal authorization of interstate pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals.

The bill, titled the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act, was also amended during House proceedings this week to include language lifting the crude oil export ban. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who proposed the amendment, tried to advance similar legislation earlier this year (see Daily GPI, Oct. 8; Sept. 17).

But the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has already signaled that the president will veto the bill, which was sponsored by Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and passed largely along party lines by a 249-174 vote.

The bill -- which also includes a number of changes to federal policy on hydroelectric power, grid reliability and energy efficiency -- would give FERC the authority to set deadlines for other agencies participating in the review process for projects proposed under the Natural Gas Act. It would also require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to conclude the federal authorization process within 90 days of completing its final environmental document.

And the bill would require concurrent reviews of pipeline projects by federal and state agencies involved “unless doing so would impair the ability of the agency to conduct needed analysis or otherwise carry out those obligations.”

For LNG exports, the bill would require the Department of Energy (DOE) to issue a final decision on an export authorization application within 30 days of completing a National Environmental Policy Act review of the project.

On Thursday, Upton touted the bill’s efforts to facilitate expansion of the nation’s energy infrastructure.

“A decade ago no one could have imagined where we would be in 2015 and how much the energy script would be flipped in our favor. This bill promotes access to affordable and reliable energy, diversity, efficiency and modernization of our energy infrastructure,” Upton said, adding that, by approving the legislation, “the House put the scarcity mindset in the rearview mirror.”

Industry groups likewise praised the bill’s passage Thursday.

“America has plentiful, proven supplies of natural gas. Now we need the pipeline infrastructure in place to enable Americans to benefit fully from this natural gas abundance,” said Don Santa, CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. He added that the bill “takes modest steps to improve the pipeline permitting process, while respecting the obligation to comply with” environmental laws.

The American Petroleum Institute’s Louis Finkel, executive vice president of government affairs, said the bill “will help bring U.S. energy policy into the 21st century” and that “updating our policies for a new era is critical to harnessing the jobs and economic potential unleashed by America’s energy renaissance.”

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the ranking member of the Energy & Commerce Committee, criticized the bill for having “an unerring devotion to the energy of the past. Provision after provision favors an energy policy dominated by fossil fuels and unnecessary energy use. It is the Republican Party’s 19th century vision for the future of U.S. energy policy.”

Pallone proposed an amendment this week that would prevent the bill from taking effect until the Energy Information Administration could complete a study of its impacts on carbon pollution, but the amendment failed to pass.

For its part, OMB had already outlined several issues it had with the legislation by the time Thursday’s vote rolled around. The OMB called it “unnecessary” to “broaden FERC’s authority to impose deadlines on other federal agencies reviewing environmental implications of natural gas pipelines” and said the legislation “would unnecessarily curtail DOE’s ability to fully consider whether natural gas export projects are consistent with the public interest.”

On Thursday, Washington, DC-based ClearView Energy Partners LLC expressed skepticism over whether the bill will become law, noting that both the energy bill and the proposal to lift the crude oil export ban face the threat of a veto.

The legislation doesn’t have “a sufficient number of House supporters to overcome a presidential veto,” ClearView said. “Accordingly, we regard [the bill] as just as unlikely to make its way to the president’s desk with crude exports language as it was without crude exports language. Our odds for legislative action ending the ban during the 114th Congress remain at 15%.”

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