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Democratic Lawmakers Propose 'Comprehensive' Approach to Gas Infrastructure

Reps. Tim Bishop (D-NY) and Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) introduced legislation last Thursday to create a commission that would examine policies governing the siting of natural gas infrastructure.

Their Natural Gas Strategy Act would dictate that projects be reviewed in the context of "a comprehensive, national strategy," they said. Their proposal follows a raft of proposals for liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities over the last several years, some of them highly controversial in the communities where they have been proposed.

"Placement of natural gas infrastructure should not be run like a deli counter, where it's 'first come, first served,'" said Bishop, who is vice chair of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee. "Instead, we must take a comprehensive approach and develop a national strategy. As Congress debates solutions for America's short-term and long-term energy needs, the strategic placement of energy infrastructure, particularly natural gas infrastructure, is of critical importance."

Earlier this year Cummings blasted the Bush administration for opposing legislation to require that the U.S. Coast Guard enforce security zones around LNG facilities and arriving tankers. The legislation passed the House with enough votes to override a presidential veto (see NGI, April 28). Cummings also has been an opponent of the Sparrows Point LNG terminal project in Baltimore County, MD (see NGI, March 10). In June the Department of Commerce overrode the state of Maryland's objection to the Sparrows Point terminal (see NGI, June 30).

"While it is critical when considering the placement of natural gas infrastructure that we evaluate the risks and benefits associated with each individual site, we must also take a comprehensive look at our nation's natural gas supply needs and the infrastructure required to meet those needs," said Cummings, chair of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. "Through the creation of a national commission, we can begin to assess how to place national gas infrastructure where it best meets supply needs and where it will have the least possible impact on the environment while also allowing us to achieve maximum security with the limited resources available."

Including Bishop and Cummings, about a dozen lawmakers signed on to the legislation (HR 6720).

Federal agencies responsible for placement and oversight of the vast system of pipelines, terminals and facilities -- including LNG regasification facilities -- are often limited in their ability to consider all the relevant elements of a proposed project when making decisions on the placement of infrastructure, the lawmakers maintain.

Specifically, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Maritime Administration can only react to infrastructure proposals brought to them. This approach severely curtails the nation's ability to place energy infrastructure where it can best meet anticipated demand, where it causes the least environmental impact and where it is easiest to secure, given the limited resources of the Coast Guard and other federal, state, and local agencies, Bishop and Cummings said.

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