House votes to speed natural gas pipelines

The House passed legislation on Wednesday to expedite the federal review process for natural gas pipeline applications.

Passed 253-169, the bill would allow automatic approval of natural gas pipelines if federal agencies don't act within a certain timeframe.

ADVERTISEMENT
Under the measure, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) would be ordered to approve or deny a pipeline application within 12 months.  Agencies responsible for issuing licenses or permits must act within 90 days after FERC issues a final environmental review, though the deadline could be extended by 30 days if the agency demonstrates it can't finish in time.

But if the agency doesn't make a decision by then, a pipeline would automatically be approved.

Republicans said the legislation would put pressure on agencies to avoid unnecessary delays for natural gas pipelines.

"We have an opportunity to get this product from where it's been found to the consumers and businesses that are demanding it," said Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), the bill's sponsor.

But Democrats warned the bill would eliminate any thorough review of building natural gas pipelines.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, recalled a natural gas pipeline explosion in his home state. No one was killed or seriously injured, he said, but the explosion damaged an entire apartment complex.

"It scares me, in all honesty, to think that we would want to change the process whereby FERC has the opportunity to look at the safety of these pipelines when they're proposed for permitting and somehow short-circuit that process," Pallone said.

The White House issued a veto threat against the measure, saying it would "create conflicts" with current requirements and force agencies to make rushed decisions or deny applications entirely because they don't have enough information by the established deadlines. 

"For these reasons, the bill may actually delay projects or lead to more project denials, undermining the intent of the legislation," a Statement of Administration Policy read.

The House passed similar legislation in the last Congress by a vote of 252-165. Twenty-six Democrats joined all Republicans in supporting that measure.

Earlier this month, the House voted for the tenth time in the last four years to approve the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. The Senate is in its third week of considering an identical measure.