House panel votes to speed cross-border pipeline permits

 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted Thursday to set a time limit on the federal government’s consideration of cross-border oil pipelines like Keystone XL and remove the president’s role in the process.

The bill that the panel originally considered late Wednesday would have exempted oil and gas pipelines into Canada or Mexico from environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), mandated that the government only block projects if they are against the national security interest, and removed the State Department from the process.

But by Thursday morning, Chairman Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonGOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team GOP leaders huddle with discharge petition backers, opponents Leaders warn Republicans against forcing immigration vote MORE (R-Mich.) proposed an amendment to roll back some of the larger changes.

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“This approach is a sincere effort to focus a targeted solution to lessons learned from the Keystone pipeline,” Upton said. “No one can rightly argue that the current presidential permit process at the State Department is not broken, no matter what side of the climate debate you’re on.”

Upton said the new bill takes politics out of the permitting decision by removing the need for the president to issue a permit. President Obama still has not issued a permit for Keystone XL more than five years after TransCanada Corp. applied for it, angering Republicans.

“This amendment simply puts this infrastructure on par with what already happens with natural gas pipelines that cross the border, a commonsense and very transparent approach,” Upton said. He sponsored the amendment along with Rep. Gene GreenRaymond (Gene) Eugene GreenOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — New details on Trump's drug pricing plan Repeating history with octane biofuel standards is a huge mistake May brings key primaries across nation MORE (D-Texas), the bill’s original sponsor.

It would set a 120-day limit on the State Department's consideration after it completes the environmental review process. And it would maintain the department's role in deciding whether a project is in the national interest, but it would add a presumption of such interest. The original bill said that officials could only reject a permit if it violated national security interests.

Democrats welcomed the changes, but nearly all voted against the bill, saying the amendment did not go far enough to allay their concerns. Most important, the bill would restrict environmental review to the segment of the pipeline that crosses the border, not its entire length.

“That’s a dramatic narrowing of the federal environmental review for pipelines,” said Rep. Henry WaxmanHenry Arnold WaxmanFDA lets vaping flourish as it eyes crackdown on cigarettes So-called ‘Dem’ ethanol bill has it all wrong Overnight Health Care: CEO of insurer lobby group stepping down | SEC charges Theranos founder with 'massive fraud' | Abortion fight holds up health deal MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the panel.

“Under this amendment, the environmental review of the Keystone pipeline would only examine the environmental impacts of the little piece of the pipeline that crosses the border with Canada, not the impacts on climate change, including all of that tar sands oil in the middle of the United States,” he said.

Democrats also objected to the presumption of national interest.

While the bill would not apply to any current applications, such as Keystone XL, it would allow such projects to re-apply after July 2016 under the new standards.

“The bill still provides a way for controversial tar sands pipelines, including Keystone, to slip through the back door for approval, even if the administration determines that those pipelines are not in the national interest,” Rep. Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorUS lawmakers celebrate the royal wedding EPA approved aide to work for GOP firm, Florida lawmaker Live coverage: Pruitt faces grilling in House hearings MORE (D-Fla.) said.

Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusOvernight Energy: House votes to advance Yucca Mountain nuke waste plan | EPA won't reverse danger findings for paint stripping chemical | County sues oil companies over climate House votes to advance Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project Overnight Energy: Interior sending officers to southern border | Dem AGs want EPA to halt plan restricting use of science | EPA documents show secrecy push MORE (R-Ill.) contradicted Democrats’ arguments about the environmental review, saying other portions of projects that would otherwise need review would still be subject.

“I think the Upton-Green amendment does exactly what it says it’s going to do,” he said. “Nothing in this bill would limit the application of NEPA to the rest of the project.”