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With pipeline certificate review, FERC chairman looking to grease the skids

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With pipeline certificate review, FERC chairman looking to grease the skids

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's chairman made clear before a Senate panel June 12 that his intent in reviewing the commission's gas pipeline certificate policy is to streamline, rather than slow, the process.

Kevin McIntyre's comments offered some insight into his thinking after FERC in April issued a notice of inquiry to consider whether to adjust the nearly 20-year-old policy in light of dramatic changes in energy markets.

The agency has come under competing pressures as a surge of proposed projects has accompanied the rise in shale production, with industry groups worrying that FERC review times have stretched out, while some environmental groups have complained the commission has too easily signed off on projects without fully considering whether their necessity or the extent of their impacts.

In testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, McIntyre noted that he was "but one of five voices" at the commission and said he anticipates "thoughtful input" from each of his colleagues. "I will say for my own part, though, I have no interest in initiating a review of our gas certificate policy area for the purpose of slowing anything down," he said. "My interest is in streamlining and making more efficient the processes that we have."

Topics to consider in FERC's review include how the commission determines whether projects are needed and whether it should begin to look beyond precedent agreements, as well as eminent domain and landowner impacts, and environmental concerns such as how the commission considers climate change.

FERC also sought feedback on how to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its certificate processes. Some industry executives have expressed concern that questions posed in the review have added to their unknowns, even as the administration's steel tariffs have added hesitancy to commercial decisions about a next batch of potential projects.

Action on pipelines, LNG

McIntyre's comments came as several senators questioned him about advancing more efficient government reviews of infrastructure projects.

Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, stressed that as conversations about resilience and reliability and providing affordable energy dominating debate, "we've got to figure out how we facilitate greater pipeline infrastructure," particularly in areas of "very high need" in the Northeast.

It is not the first time that McIntyre made clear his interest in finding ways to streamline the process, but he specified June 12 that he would like the review of the certificate policy to drive toward that goal, as well. Previously, McIntyre signed on to a White House memorandum of understanding with multiple agencies that set a target of trimming reviews to two years.

McIntyre also laid out steps he is taking to help FERC adapt to the rise in its LNG project workload, which he noted had jumped from four LNG terminals in FERC's queue in 2008 to 14 today, along with six projects under construction requiring FERC attention.

FERC has brought in private contractors to add to its workforce assessing projects and is seeking to hire more engineering staff, he said. It may also reallocate commission resources toward LNG project reviews and bring in further third-party assistance as it looks for ways to streamline its internal processes, he said.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., was among those pressing for faster LNG reviews. He called attention to the need for a West Coast LNG export terminal as an outlet for Rocky Mountain natural gas supplies, saying leaders in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea are looking for ways to do business with U.S. energy producers to diversify their supplies. He raised concerns that limited staff resources could lengthen permitting timelines.

FERC pushed to follow FAST-41

Separately, Sen. Robert Portman, R-Ohio, sought to take FERC to task for failing to be fully transparent about its pipeline permitting schedules. Portman played a role in steering the FAST-41 Act, which established a public website to track progress of major infrastructure projects to increase transparency and provide for a more predictable schedule. He said FERC has not been willing to post its schedule and has indicated that it could not do so because of internal regulations, he said.

"Statutes trump regulation," he said, asserting that the statutory requirement is clear.

While McIntyre said he would need to confer with staff on the matter, Portman pushed for an answer within a week on whether FERC would commit to publicly post its timelines.