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House Passes Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Bill; Obama Vows to Veto

The U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday afternoon passed a bill that would establish a set deadline for federal and state agencies to approve pipeline applications, despite objections from the Democratic minority and a veto threat from the Obama administration.

The "Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act” (HR 161) was approved by a 253-169 vote, with all Republicans and 14 Democrats voting for passage. The legislation would establish a 12-month deadline for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission 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.

"This legislation is not about anything except perfecting the 2005 Energy Policy Act that gave FERC the quarterbacking authority for approving these natural gas pipelines from the aspect of the impact on clean water, clean air and endangered species," said Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power. "This legislation simply gives FERC the authority that many of its commissioners ask for, and that is that they have the authority to convince these agencies to start looking at the impacts of the applications earlier in the process, rather than at the end."

Approval of the bill, which was authored by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), was applauded by the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA).

"The Pompeo bill is consistent with the principal recommendation of an INGAA Foundation report on permitting released in December of 2012 [see Daily GPIJan. 17, 2013]," said INGAA President Donald Santa.

"The report 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. This deficiency increasingly is causing pipeline project delays. Providing clear permitting deadline authority will add certainty to the process and encourage timely decision-making."

A previous iteration of the bill (HR 1900), also sponsored by Pompeo, was approved by the House two years ago, but stalled in the then Democratically controlled Senate (see Daily GPINov. 21, 2013). The Obama administration signaled its opposition to the legislation in the previous Congress, and on Tuesday again said the president intends to veto the bill in its current form.

"The bill's requirements could force agencies to make decisions based on incomplete information or information that may not be available, including potential environmental and community impacts of the proposed pipelines, within the stringent deadlines, and to deny applications that otherwise would have been approved, but for lack of sufficient review time," the White House said.

HR 161 bypassed the House Energy and Commerce Committee on its way to the floor, instead being advanced by the House Rules Committee Tuesday (see Daily GPIJan. 20). The committee voted along party lines to send the bill to the House floor under a closed rule, restricting debate to one hour and limiting amendments.

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