Virginia’s US senators offer FERC pipeline permitting reform bill

Virginia’s two US senators, Democrats Timothy M. Kaine and Mark R. Warner, introduced legislation on June 7 that they said could provide better opportunities for the public to comment as the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission considers proposed interstate natural gas pipeline projects. The measure was a response to concerns constituents raised during FERC’s reviews of the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, they said.

Among other provisions, S. 1314 would require FERC to hold public meetings in every locality through which a pipeline would pass at every stage of the review process to minimize situations where individuals are forced to commute long distances with very little time to comment, the senators said. The bill was referred to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

Kaine, the bill’s primary sponsor, said his constituents have been expressing views to him for and against the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley projects for about 2 years. “From listening to all sides, what is clear to me either way is that FERC’s public input process needs improvement,” he stated.

“Driving 2 hr through the mountains to a public meeting at which you can speak for 2 min is not public input. Having 90 days to read and comment on 2,000 pages while a dozen other 400-page supplements are trickling out is not public input,” Kaine said.

He said FERC’s job is to adjudicate the public interest, especially when eminent domain is involved, which requires taking public input more seriously.

Warner said he’s heard from many Virginians with concerns about FERC’s “complicated and cumbersome public engagement process, and it’s clear to me that [it] needs to be made a lot more accessible and transparent.”

The senators said that S. 1314’s provisions specifically would:

• State that it is US policy that eminent domain be limited to situations in which the taking of property is for public, not private, use.

• Require a single programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) if two gas pipelines are proposed within 1 year and 100 miles of one another.

• Provide that if there is more information that comes out after a draft EIS than is in a draft EIS, FERC must do a supplemental EIS, with another public comment period.

• Mandate public comment meetings in every locality through which a pipeline would pass, at every stage in the process (draft EIS, final EIS, and supplemental EIS) so members of the public do not have to drive hours over long distances to meetings where they are only able to speak for only a few minutes.

• Specify that eminent domain takings of land under conservation easement be given fair compensation not just for the land value but for the lost conservation value of the land.

• Ensure that plans to mitigate unavoidable impacts be subject to public comment so the public can verify that the mitigation is fair and proportionate.

• Require cumulative analysis of visual impacts on National Scenic Trails (including the Appalachian Trail) for multiple pipelines that cross the same trail within 100 miles.

• Prohibit any downgrading of National Scenic Trail scenic integrity requirements in current law if the project represents a net degradation to the trail.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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