NATURAL GAS: White House threatens to veto GOP House pipeline bill Hannah Northe…

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NATURAL GAS: White House threatens to veto GOP House pipeline bill
Hannah Northey, E&E reporter
Published: Tuesday, January 20, 2015
The Obama administration today threatened to veto a Republican House bill that would fast-track the permitting of natural gas pipelines — a measure that's up for a vote in the lower chamber tomorrow.

The White House in a statement expressed support for new gas infrastructure to tap into massive shale plays but criticized Rep. Mike Pompeo's "Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act," H.R. 161, saying the Kansas Republican's measure would create statutory and regulatory conflict, limit public comment, and impose "unworkable" timelines.
The bill would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission a year to decide whether to approve or deny a pipeline, with other agencies given three or four months beyond that to complete their work on any additional permits, licenses or approvals that would be needed.

"The bill may actually delay projects or lead to more project denials, undermining the intent of the legislation," administration officials wrote. "The small percent of decisions that have taken longer than one year involve complex proposals that merit additional review and consideration. Further, FERC already has an existing framework to set reasonable timetables for the other federal agencies with permit, review, or approval authority to act."

Pompeo appeared before the House Rules Committee today to defend the bill, which made it through the lower chamber before drawing a veto threat from the White House and stalling last year. Pompeo said the bill would ensure gas reaches energy-starved regions of the country like the Northeast, where demand is lapping the construction of new projects.

The committee is expected to approve a closed rule today that would block amendments, but it had not yet voted by publication time. That rule would affect an amendment that Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) proposed today, which would exempt a pipeline that "passes through lands required under Federal, State, or local law to be managed for purposes of natural resource conservation or recreation."

Democrats on the Rules Committee today criticized Pompeo's bill, saying FERC approves the vast majority of projects — more than 90 percent — within a year, whereas projects that take longer are more complicated.

When asked about Democratic opposition, Pompeo said that many of the FERC-approved projects are small and that larger pipeline proposals before FERC are facing delays, triggering higher gas costs in areas that need the energy most.

Debate about the bill also highlighted a partisan fight, with one Democrat accusing Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) of pushing through legislation without taking input from both sides of the aisle.

Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) said Sessions pushes bills that attract veto threats and spends time on legislation that he knows won't be signed into law instead of talking to Democrats. McGovern also said the committee continues to block amendments.

"I hope after today we can get back to a more regular process, where there's input from the minority and not just direction from the majority," McGovern said.