House Votes for More Energy Regulator Authority Over Pipelines

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By Brian Dabbs

Legislation aimed at averting pipeline approval fights akin to the battle over Keystone XL passed in the House July 19. The bill (H.R. 2883) would remove the White House from the cross-border pipeline regulatory process, replacing its approval authority with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The Obama administration rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, which was designed to transfer Canadian oil to the Gulf of Mexico starting in late 2015. But President Donald Trump signed off on the project just days after taking office.

Republicans railed against the Obama decision as a detriment to U.S. jobs and the fossil fuel industry. TransCanada, however, is still seeking approval from Nebraska regulators before it begins construction.

GOP Puts Trust in FERC

The legislation, which passed 254-175 would give the Energy Department approval authority for cross-border electric transmission lines, but FERC would sign off on oil and natural gas pipelines.

Those approvals would come only after environmental assessments are completed. The U.S. shares pipelines infrastructure with both Canada and Mexico.

Supporters claim the regulatory overhaul will give more certainty and objectivity to approvals, while environmental groups blasted the passage.

"[The bill] eliminates many important longstanding procedures, undermining critical environmental and economic review by abolishing the requirement that a project obtain a presidential permit and be affirmatively determined to be in the public interest,” the League of Conservation Voters said in a July 18 letter to members, also arguing that the revamp would instruct federal regulators to only assess the environmental impacts of the pipeline section that crosses the border.

“By only reviewing a small portion of these projects and essentially erasing the national interest requirement, this bill would make it almost impossible for an agency to ever deny a permit and could result in irreversible damage to our health, public safety, climate, environment, and economy,” the letter said.

Domestic FERC Deference

Meanwhile, the House also passed legislation (H.R. 2910) to require FERC and other regulators to finalize a decision on natural gas pipelines 90 days after an environmental review.

The measure also requires all federal and state agencies to show deference to the FERC review. That bill passed 248-179.

The American Chemistry Council, American Petroleum Institute, the National Ocean Industries Association and other industry groups lauded the passage. “The permitting process has become more protracted and challenging in recent years,” they said in a letter. “While the [FERC] generally acts in a timely manner on most proposed applications, roadblocks and delays are becoming far too common with other federal and state permitting agencies. We need a process that is fair, comprehensive, and ensures commonsense cooperation and timely decision-making.”

The sprawling Senate energy bill (S. 1460) includes a similar measure.

House Democrats failed to move a number of amendments on both bills that would have scaled back or modified the regulatory changes.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Dabbs in Washington at bdabbs@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

For More Information

The industry group's letter can be found at http://src.bna.com/qU8

The League of Conservation Voters letter can be found at http://src.bna.com/qVE

Language for S. 1460 can be found at http://src.bna.com/qVH

Language for H.R. 2910 can be found at http://src.bna.com/qVF

Language for H.R. 2883 can be found at http://src.bna.com/qVu

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