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Bills Streamlining Pipeline Permitting Pass House With Some Bipartisan Support

Two bills designed to streamline the permitting process for energy infrastructure, including oil and natural gas pipelines, passed the House of Representatives with some measure of bipartisan support on Wednesday.

Seventeen Democrats joined 237 Republicans to vote in favor of HR 2883, also known as the Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act. The bill 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.

The bill also calls for FERC to 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.

HR 2883 was introduced by Reps. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Gene Green (D-TX) on June 12. Despite bipartisan support from the start, 175 Democrats voted against the legislation.

House lawmakers also passed HR 2910, the Promoting Interagency Coordination for Review of Natural Gas Pipelines Act, on a 248-179 vote. Thirteen Democrats joined 235 Republicans in support. The bill 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.

Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ), whose district includes north-central New Jersey, joined 178 Democrats in voting no on the bill. HR 2910 was introduced by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) on June 15.

Neither bill has counterpart legislation under consideration by the Senate. Both passed the muster of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Monday.

Oil and gas industry voices support, but Democrats rail

"Despite the clear need for pipelines, the permitting process has become more protracted and challenging," Don Santa, CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), said in a statement Thursday applauding HR 2910's passage. "While FERC acts in a timely manner on most proposed applications, roadblocks and delays are becoming commonplace with other federal and state permitting agencies.

"We hope the Senate takes prompt action on this legislation that will facilitate the responsible and orderly development of infrastructure, enabling consumers to enjoy more fully the benefits of America's abundant and affordable natural gas supply."

In a separate statement, the American Petroleum Institute (API) joined INGAA in thanking the House for passing both bills.

"This is an important step in strengthening our nation's energy infrastructure and creating U.S. jobs across the country," said Robin Rorick, API's midstream and industry operations group director. "Creating certainty and improving efficiency in the permitting process for natural gas pipelines will ensure that consumers continue benefitting from affordable, reliable, clean-burning natural gas.

"We urge the Senate to approve this legislation so that American workers, consumers, and the environment can continue to benefit from our nation’s abundant supply of natural gas."

Before the vote on HR 2883, Green said opponents of the bill "argue the executive permitting process has worked well in the past. It is true that in the past the process has been proven effective. Unfortunately, cross-border decisions have now fallen victim to election year-cycle politics.

"We cannot build infrastructure in this country or on the continent based on who sits in the White House, whether they be Democrat or Republican. It is Congress' responsibility to create regulatory rules by which infrastructure is constructed."

But Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) countered that HR 2883 "would allow large and long-lived cross-border energy projects to be approved with no understanding or consideration of their environmental impact or to be exempted from any permitting requirement at all.

"The bill assumes that these projects are always in the public interest regardless of the merits. It is an unjustifiable giveaway. It elevates corporate profits over the public interest, and it is wrong."

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) concurred. "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."

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