Bill is wrong way to speed gas pipeline approvals, House panel told

A bill that would give the US Department of the Interior authority to approve natural gas pipelines crossing National Parks Service land is unnecessary and unwanted, a US Bureau of Land Management official told a House Natural Resources subcommittee.

“Most of the authorizations of HR 2295 are already within the scope of existing [Interior] authorities, and consistent with current priorities and activities,” Timothy Spisak, BLM’s senior advisor for energy, minerals, and realty management, said during the Energy and Minerals Subcommittee’s May 20 hearing.

“Additionally, the department strongly opposes the bill’s provisions that would authorize the secretary to issue natural gas pipeline rights of way on NPS lands,” Tpisak said.

The bill’s sponsors, Reps. Tom McArthur (R-NJ) and Cedric Richmond (D-La.), said their measure, the National Energy Security Corridors Act, is necessary to reduce federal bureaucratic roadblocks. “All along the East Coast, families are paying higher than average to heat their homes with natural gas,” said McArthur, a full committee member.

“We need an all-of-the-above energy policy that utilizes our existing resources through a modern energy infrastructure, but bureaucratic red tape and outdated requirements have stalled any progress toward that goal,” McArthur said. America’s Natural Gas Alliance and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America have endorsed HR 2295, he added.

Specifically, the bill would amend the 1920 Mineral Leasing Act to require the Interior secretary to identify and designate National Energy Security Corridors for construction of gas pipelines on federal land, and for other purposes.

Measure is necessary

Three other witnesses also said HR 2295 is needed. “I don’t know the intricacies of this bill,” said Linwood, NC, Mayor Linwood Parker. “What I do know is that [it] will help quicken the development of future energy infrastructure, and will lead to a much needed increase in industry in towns, cities, and states across the nation.”

Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, noted that an industry or company considering a major capital project often must run a gauntlet of a dozen separate agency reviews or approvals, which sometimes result in years of delays.

“Excessive delay in permit processing often results from overlapping agency authority, where no single agency is in a position to guide a company through the permitting process, and any one agency can act as a bottleneck,” he said. “These issues directly impact the construction of pipelines on federal lands.”

Interior is fully capable of deciding whether pipelines should cross NPS land, said Jim Moore, vice-president for commercial development at Williams Pipelines in Houston.

The agency has a long history of evaluating pipeline proposals before they are brought before Congress for approval, Moore told the subcommittee. Clarifying that Interior has authority to approve gas pipeline crossings of NPS property would not only continue an evaluation of such requests, but eliminate delays projects encounter while awaiting congressional approval, he said.

Removes local input

But Gregory Buppert, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville, Va., said developing large-scale pipelines crossing federal land has significant impacts on private property and local communities. A deliberate planning process that draws heavily on input from affected communities is the only responsible way to authorize pipeline routes, he maintained.

“Unfortunately, the proposed National Energy Security Corridors Act does not provide that opportunity,” Buppert continued in his written testimony. “Instead, the legislation would cut the voice of the public out of the siting process, leading to more conflicts and placing greater burdens on private property and local communities.”

Spisak said Interior and other federal departments and agencies have worked to meet the 2005 Energy Policy Act’s Section 368 requirement to designate corridors for oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines; and electricity transmission and distribution facilities on federal lands in the 11 contiguous western states.

They also have responded to US President Barack Obama’s executive order and two presidential memorandums directing federal agencies to improve energy corridors and expedite siting of gas pipelines and other infrastructure projects, he said.

While Interior supports HR 2295’s goal of providing efficient transmission of gas across federal lands, it believes many of the activities the bill would authorize already are within the department’s authority, Spisak said. Interior also believes the bill’s establishment of a National Environmental Policy Act waiver is unnecessary and counterproductive since it would complicate the deliberative process necessary to appropriately consider specific authorization requests, he told the subcommittee.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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