The House passed legislation on Thursday that would require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve applications for natural gas pipelines within 12 months.
Members passed the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act, H.R. 1900, in a 252-165 vote that saw 26 Democrats support the GOP bill.
Republicans said the gas pipeline bill is needed because demand for natural gas is rising across the country, but producers are having trouble getting gas to the East Coast. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) said prices in New England could be close to 50 percent higher than the national average because there is not enough pipeline capacity to that region of the country.
"Unfortunately, those living in these and many other states can expect to see higher prices once again this winter, and this is precisely why we are bringing to the floor H.R. 1900," Whitfield said.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), added that the bill doesn't force FERC to approve pipelines and only requires the agency to make a decision.
"They can say yes to a permit, they can deny a permit, but they can't sit on it," he said. "They have to do their homework; they have to get the job done."
Democrats largely opposed the bill and said that roughly 92 percent of natural gas pipeline applications are already decided within 12 months. Rep. Cathy Castor (D-Fla.) said the GOP would only interrupt what many see as a smooth permitting process.
"Instead of expediting the expansion of natural gas pipelines across the country, it would disrupt FERC's natural gas permitting process, which right now is already getting thousands of miles of pipelines permitted in a timely manner," she said.
Democrats also said the bill wouldn't solve the problem of high natural gas prices on the East Coast. House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said supply is tight in New England for reasons that have nothing to do with the application process.
"The pipeline companies haven't been satisfied that there's a sufficient year-round demand … to justify and finance these pipelines," he said. "Cutting corners on the permitting process isn't going to get additional pipeline capacity built for the Northeast."
The Obama administration has also said it opposes the bill, a factor that means the bill has almost no chance of being taken up it the Senate.
"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," the administration said this week. "For these reasons, the bill may actually delay projects or lead to more project denials, undermining the intent of the legislation."
In addition to requiring FERC to act in 12 months, the bill would require other related agencies to approve on any related permits or approvals within 90 days. If these other agencies miss that deadline, these additional approvals would be deemed as given, allowing the application to move forward.
Before the final vote, the House rejected five Democratic amendments to the bill, from:
— Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), requiring natural gas pipeline applications to include information about how the applicant will ensure methane emissions will be minimized. Failed 183-233.
— Castor (D-Fla.), eliminating language requiring a permit to be approved if the deadline were missed. Failed 184-233.
— Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), allowing the 12-month clock to start after FERC has considered and responded to state or local objections to a pipeline project. Failed 183-236.
— Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), delays implementation of the bill as long as the sequester is in effect. Failed 175-243.
— Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), replaces the bill with a requirement that the Government Accountability Office completes a study on what delays are expected by FERC or other permitting agencies. Failed 175-239.