Rounding out a trio of energy bills offered by the House this week, the Republican-led chamber Thursday approved by a wide margin legislation that establishes a set deadline for federal and state agencies to approve pipeline applications.
The bill (HR 1900), which was sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), was voted out of the House 252-165, with most of the support coming from Republicans.
The favorable vote on the pipeline bill comes only one day after the House passed HR 2728, which bars the Interior Department from enforcing federal fracking regulations in any states that already have regulation; and HR 1965, which seeks to provide producers with more certainty in the leasing process for onshore oil and gas projects on federal lands.
None of the three bills are expected to make it to the Senate floor, let alone President Obama's desk. The Obama administration voiced its opposition to the Pompeo bill, as well as the other initiatives, earlier this week. "The administration recognizes the need for additional energy infrastructure and supports the timely consideration of project applications. The administration, however, strongly opposes HR 1900, which would allow the automatic approval of natural gas pipeline projects if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC] or other federal agencies do not issue the required permit, license or approval within rigid, unworkable time frames," said the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Pompeo's bill would establish a 12-month deadline for FERC to approve gas pipeline applications, and other federal permitting agencies would have 90 days (with a potential extension of 30 days) to complete a separate review of the project (see Daily GPI,May 13).
The clock for the other federal permitting agencies would begin to tick when FERC issues a final environmental impact statement. If the agencies fail to meet the deadlines, the permits would be automatically approved under the bill.
"HR 1900 could create conflicts with existing statutory and regulatory requirements and practices related to agencies' programs, thereby causing confusing and increasing litigation risk. The bill's requirements could force agencies to make decisions based on incomplete information or information that may not be available within the stringent deadlines, and to deny applications that otherwise would have been approved, but for lack of sufficient review time...For these reasons, the bill may actually delay projects or lead to more project denials, undermining the intent of the legislation," the White House said.
But Donald Santa, president of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), applauded the House's action, saying the bill "will improve the permitting process for interstate natural gas pipelines. Pipelines are the key to America’s natural gas revolution because they are the indispensable link from the supply source to the ultimate gas consumer.
"The Pompeo bill is consistent with the principal recommendation of an INGAA Foundation report on permitting released in December of 2012," which found that "while FERC does an effective job of reviewing applications to build new pipelines, it lacks the authority to enforce permitting deadlines for other federal and state agencies. The deficiency increasingly is causing pipeline project delays. Providing clear permitting deadline authority will add certainty to the process and encourage timely decision-making," Santa said.
"Under this legislation, the deadline to approve a project permit would not start until after completion of the NEPA (environmental) review. By that point, a pipeline project developer would have been in consultation with both FERC and the permitting agencies for 12 to 18 months, and sometimes longer. Consequently, it is entirely reasonable to expect a permitting agency to be able to make a final decision within 90 days of the NEPA process completion," he said.
"We hope the Senate takes prompt action on this legislation that will facilitate the responsible and orderly development of infrastructure that will enable consumers to realize more fully the benefits of the shale revolution."