Energy & Environment

Regulators to consider changing gas pipeline approval policy

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said Thursday it would review its nearly two-decade-old policy for approving natural gas pipelines.

While the commission did not commit to any particular changes, the announcement is a win for environmentalists who have long complained that FERC acts as a “rubber stamp” and approves too many gas lines.

FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre, who was a lawyer representing some of the companies that have applied for pipelines at the agency, announced the major initiative at the five-person commission’s meeting, his first since being sworn in two weeks ago.{mosads}

“1999 was quite a while ago, particularly in the natural gas pipeline area. So much has changed. So much has changed in our entire industry, of course, since then,” McIntyre told reporters after the meeting, referring to the year that the current gas pipeline policy was set.

“But it would be hard to find an area that has changed more than natural gas and our pipeline industry.”

McIntyre, a Republican, is referring to the initiative as a “fresh look,” but he clarified that he is not currently proposing changes to any part of the process.

“It’s a matter, we believe, of good governance, to take a fresh look at this area, and to give all stakeholders and the public an opportunity to weigh in on what they believe should be changed to our existing policies,” he said.

The other commissioners welcomed the initiative. Democrats Cheryl LaFleur and Rich Glick both said the agency ought to look at whether to change how it evaluates the market need for proposed projects and the greenhouse gas emissions from the eventual use of the gas transported.

“The commission should assess whether its current approach for evaluating environmental impacts for a proposed pipeline, including potential greenhouse gas emissions, requires modification,” said Glick.

Republican Commissioners Rob Powelson and Neil Chatterjee agreed that the initiative is a good idea, but also defended the current way that the FERC evaluates pipelines.

“We don’t rubber-stamp interstate pipelines here at the commission,” he said. “I don’t want to sit here and kowtow to a certain constituency that might want to drive outcomes here. This is about giving everybody an opportunity to be heard.”

McIntyre said he is not yet ready to announce the particular format of the commission’s consideration process.

“But I guarantee you, whatever it is, it will be open and transparent and thorough, and we will invite the views of all stakeholders to ensure that we are doing everything we can to accurately and efficiently assess the pipeline applications that we receive and the process,” he said.

Tags Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Kevin McIntyre Natural gas Neil Chatterjee
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