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Industry-Backed House Bill Streamlining NatGas Pipeline Reviews Advances

An industry-backed bill that seeks to speed up FERC's natural gas pipeline review process by placing additional requirements on participating agencies came a step closer to law Thursday, advancing through a House subcommittee.

HR 2910, introduced by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), is headed to the House Energy and Commerce Committee after the Energy Subcommittee advanced it with several other bills through markup.

A group of 20 trade associations -- including the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Gas Association, the Consumer Energy Alliance, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others -- sent a letter in support of the legislation to the Republican and Democratic committee heads.

The trade groups said the bill would "improve interagency coordination" in natural gas pipeline reviews by strengthening “the role of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as the lead agency" in following the guidelines set out in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The bill would also encourage concurrent reviews to help streamline the process, the groups wrote.

"Unfortunately, the permitting process has become more protracted and challenging in recent years," they wrote. "We need a process that is fair, comprehensive and ensures commonsense cooperation and timely decision-making."

The permitting process for pipelines and other energy infrastructure "must be updated to reflect America's abundance of domestic energy resources,” Flores said. “Modernizing the permitting process for the nation's pipeline infrastructure allows us to efficiently and safely bring those resources to our downstream assets, ultimately to consumers, to power our economy, and to give opportunities to our hard-working American families."

HR 2910, among other things, compels federal and state agencies participating in reviews of project applications under the Natural Gas Act to conduct reviews concurrently with FERC and to adhere to the schedule that FERC establishes. The bill also proposes requirements for Congress to be notified if any agency -- including FERC -- fails to meet its deadline for completing a review.

The Energy Subcommittee also advanced four other energy-related bills, including legislation designed to "establish a predictable and transparent process to permit the construction of cross-border pipelines and electric transmission facilities."

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), who introduced the bill, described it as limited to "the portion of the pipeline that is located at the international boundary only...This bill has been carefully crafted with bipartisan support to be protective of public safety and the environment."

The other bills advanced during the markup hearing relate to hydropower and emergency preparedness.

House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) accused Republicans of not giving the Energy Subcommittee Democrats enough time to review the legislation prior to Thursday's votes.

Of HR 2910, he said it was "a completely new and different bill than the one that was discussed at our legislative hearing last month. And, it's clear from the text provided with the markup notice -- dated June 14 -- that you had this language for almost a full week before sharing it with us."

Pallone expressed concern with the potential for HR 2910 to give FERC too much authority to limit input from participating agencies in pipeline reviews.

HR 2910 comes as anti-fossil fuel advocates have turned FERC's pipeline review process into an ideological battleground over the merits of unconventional shale development.

Participating agencies have proven capable of halting or stalling projects that have received FERC approval. Two notable examples occurred recently in New York, where the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation denied Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 permits for both the Constitution Pipeline and National Fuel Gas Co.'s Northern Access expansion.

Environmentalists have urged Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality to similarly exercise CWA Section 401 authority in reviewing the proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines that would traverse the state.

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