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House Panel to Debate Two Bills For Streamlining Pipeline Permitting

Lawmakers on the House Committee on Rules were scheduled to begin debate Tuesday afternoon on a pair of bills designed to streamline the permitting process for energy infrastructure, including oil and natural gas pipelines.

The first bill -- HR 2883, also known as the Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act -- calls for replacing the presidential permit requirement for oil and natural gas pipelines and electric transmission facilities that cross the U.S. border between Canada or Mexico. Under the bill, FERC would issue certificates for oil and gas pipelines that cross the border, while the secretary of the Department of Energy would issue them for electric transmission facilities.

In a report, the House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee said it believes cross-border permitting authority "should be explicitly granted by statute, as opposed to the current framework created entirely by the executive branch.

"The [House E&C] Committee is concerned by the inconsistent, ad hoc manner in which presidential permit authority has been exercised among the agencies to which it has been delegated by executive order. This issue came into particular focus in the context of the State Department's review of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, which originally applied for a presidential permit in 2008 and did not receive approval until 2017."

HR 2883 appears to have some bipartisan support, having been introduced by Reps. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Gene Green (D-TX) on June 12. But two key Democrats -- Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), ranking member on the House E&C Committee, and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), ranking member from the House Subcommittee on Energy -- said the bill would "substantially weaken" the federal approval process by exempting cross-border projects from the environmental and safety reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

"The effect of these changes will allow large and long-lived cross-border energy projects to be approved with no understanding or consideration of their environmental impacts," Pallone and Rush wrote. "In fact, such projects could even be exempted from any permitting requirement at all."

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), there were more than 50 operating cross-border natural gas pipelines -- between the U.S. and Canada, and between the U.S. and Mexico -- as of August 2013. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) from December 2016 shows that over the last five years, natural gas pipeline capacity between the U.S. and Mexico has grown substantially and is projected to double through 2018.

Meanwhile, a second bill -- HR 2910, also known as the Promoting Interagency Coordination for Review of Natural Gas Pipelines Act -- calls for strengthening the lead agency role of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and further defining the process for federal and state regulatory agencies involved in the permitting process for interstate natural gas pipelines. The bill was introduced by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) on June 15.

"There is growing evidence that pipeline infrastructure approvals are being delayed unnecessarily due to a lack of coordination or insufficient action among agencies involved in the permitting process," the House E&C Committee said in a separate report on HR 2910. "While FERC has established a pre-filing phase to facilitate and expedite the review, some agencies and states do not fully participate in the process, leading to delays.

"Testimony before the [House] Subcommittee on Energy has shown that the lack of coordination among federal and state regulators is having a negative impact on infrastructure modernization, job creation, and economic growth."

But Pallone and Rush said they also oppose HR 2910. "HR 2910 short circuits the process for considering natural gas project applications at the expense of private property owners, state and tribal rights, and the environment," they said. "The bill is unnecessary, not only because infrastructure permitting streamlining is already occurring at FPISC [the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council], but also because 88% of these projects are being certified within one year.

"At best, it is a solution in search of a problem; at worst, it is an assault on private property rights and the environment in the name of corporate profit and expediency."

Neither bill appears to have counterpart legislation under consideration by the Senate.

In separate cost estimates, the Congressional Budget Office said implementing HR 2883 would have no significant net effect on the federal budget, while enacting HR 2910 would not increase net direct spending or on-budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2028.

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