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Senate to Consider Pipeline Permitting Reform, Too

Pipeline & Gas Journal
September 2013 - for the online version go HERE.

The Senate may consider some form of pipeline permitting reform but the bill may not look like the one the House was expected to pass. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, released a broad statement on natural gas issues July 25.

Fleshing out the details in a speech hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center Wyden laid out four areas – infrastructure, transportation, exports and shale development – where he is working to find bipartisan agreement. With regard to infrastructure he said he wants to speed pipeline development while plugging methane leaks that threaten the climate advantage that natural gas provides. “I’m going to look for ways to not just build more pipelines, but to build better pipelines,” Wyden said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), the top Republican on the committee, is also interested in moving forward with pipeline legislation, but apparently is less interested in some broader natural gas bill. "We are doing our due diligence and seeing whether legislation is needed or whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) can improve the permitting process administratively," says Robert Dillon, spokesman for Murkowski. "Sometimes legislation leads to unintended consequences."

Keith Chu, a spokesman for the Senate Energy Committee, says there isn’t a hearing scheduled for H.R. 1900. He adds, "Chairman Wyden is interested in talking to colleagues about whether there is interest in speeding up permitting while also addressing methane emissions, but it’s too soon to say whether there would be legislation."

Any Senate bill may contain some of the provisions in the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act (H.R. 1900) passed by the House Energy & Commerce Committee 28-14 on July 17. But there wasn't much Democratic support for that bill in the House. That means Wyden is likely to either modify many of H.R. 1900's provisions and add new ones, especially given his interest in seeing pipelines reduce methane emissions.

Wyden may accept some elements of H.R. 1900 since its sponsor, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), agreed to changes in the bill to appease the FERC. Those changes clarified that the expedited approval process endorsed by the bill would only be available to pipeline sponsors who put projects through the pre-filing process. That 12-month limit on how long FERC could take to either approve or reject a project after completion of a final environmental impact statement would begin after the commission received a completed application from the sponsor. Even after those changes were made, 14 Democrats voted against the bill and only two voted for it, meaning the legislation has a GOP stamp on it, clouding prospects in the Democratic-controlled Senate.