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Senate Bill Would Streamline FERC NatGas Pipeline Permitting

A bipartisan bill designed to streamline the permitting process for interstate natural gas pipeline projects at FERC was introduced in the Senate on Tuesday, eliciting cheers from several trade associations representing the oil and gas industry.

S 1844, also known as the Coordinating Interagency Review of Natural Gas Infrastructure Act of 2017, was introduced by Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Angus King (I-ME). It was read twice before being referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The legislation calls for strengthening the lead agency role of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for natural gas projects within its jurisdiction. It also encourages concurrent review of permit applications by multiple federal and state agencies, and calls for any lead agency to expedite its NEPA review and to identify and invite "any other agencies with jurisdiction over any federal authorizations that may be related to the NEPA review" to participate in the process.

The House passed similar legislation with bipartisan support last July. HR 2910 called for strengthening the lead agency role of the FERC and further defined the process for federal and state regulatory agencies involved in the permitting process for interstate natural gas pipelines.

"For too long, the natural gas pipeline permitting process has been crippled with inefficiencies that unnecessarily delay critical projects for interstate commerce," said Inhofe, a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "By streamlining the permitting process, we can get pipelines from planning to serving the public faster and more efficiently. This bill brings all federal, state and local regulatory agencies to the table early on to coordinate participation -- resulting in a more collaborative and timely review process."

King, an independent who usually caucuses with the Democrats and is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said S 1844 "would help natural gas get delivered safely and efficiently to consumers in Maine, while ensuring environmental protections remain in place.

"By establishing timelines for federal reviews, the legislation cuts through red tape in a way that can deliver relief for Maine families and businesses facing high energy costs while in no way compromising environmental standards."

As with passage of the House bill last July, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) said they supported the Senate bill and looked forward to its passage. The Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA) and the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas (CLNG) also applauded Inhofe and King for their efforts.

The Senate bill “will improve the permitting process for interstate natural gas pipelines," said INGAA CEO Don Santa. "Despite the clear need for new pipelines, the permitting process has become more protracted and challenging. While FERC acts in a timely manner on most proposed applications, roadblocks and delays are becoming commonplace at other federal and state permitting agencies."

API spokesman Khary Cauthen added that "while FERC's review process is robust and thorough, it isn't always timely or efficient. This important legislation will help promote infrastructure projects across the country by encouraging greater coordination, transparency, efficiency, and certainty in the permit review process."

NGSA CEO Dena Wiggins said the bill "ensures that the environmental impacts of a pipeline project are carefully reviewed but in a manner that eliminates unnecessary delays in the process." Meanwhile, CLNG Executive Director Charlie Riedl said the legislation "offers hope to those in the LNG industry as it provides a more efficient path for gas to move from wellhead to export terminal."

Last month, President Trump signed an executive order calling for the federal government to expedite its review and permitting of major infrastructure projects, including oil and gas pipelines.

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