The recent growth in U.S. natural gas production, especially in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, has highlighted the need for new natural gas pipeline infrastructure. Without new infrastructure, American homes and businesses cannot enjoy fully the benefits of this new domestic energy resource.   

Because permitting is often arduous, time-consuming and costly, Congress is seeking ways to improve the process. One obvious way, and one proposed by three bills—H.R. 2295 in the House and S. 411 and S. 1196 in the Senate—involves eliminating Congress’ de facto role as a pipeline permitting agency and leaving the job to the federal agency with expertise.

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Under the three bills, Congress would no longer need to enact special, project-specific legislation authorizing the Department of the Interior to negotiate a right-of-way on lands administered by the National Park Service. Instead, natural gas pipeline operators–like the operators of other kinds of infrastructure, including electric power lines, water lines and communications facilities–would go straight to Interior for review.  

This is hardly a radical proposal.  DOI’s staff is capable of making balanced decisions on whether or not to approve a right-of-way, and if so, under what conditions. As mentioned, DOI already is exercising this authority for other infrastructure projects on lands administered by the National Park Service, and other federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Fish and Wildlife Service, have similar permitting authority. 

Some have suggested that this legislation would threaten national parks. Natural gas pipelines rarely cross a major national park. In fact, pipeline operators seek to avoid those types of lands or any other environmentally sensitive areas. Still, it is important to remember that the National Park Service administers more than 400 pieces of property, of which only about 60 are actual “national parks.” The lands that pipelines are most likely to traverse are parkways and trails, which, because of their linear nature, are difficult to bypass. 

Congress is not equipped to be a permitting agency for specific pipelines.  It is time to create a rational permitting process for pipelines that mirrors what exists for other infrastructure. 

Santa is the president and CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America.