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US natural gas pipeline bill 'draconian:' FERC official


A key official at the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission warned Wednesday that pending legislation setting deadlines for agencies to issue natural gas pipeline permits could backfire.

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"You push these people into a corner, they will deny you. You push them too far in a corner, they may issue conditions so strict that you would never want to make that investment decision and try to build that pipeline," Jeff Wright, director of FERC's Office of Energy Projects, told an Energy Bar Association conference in Washington.

Wright was referring to H.R. 1900, sponsored by Representative Mike Pompeo, Republican-Kansas.

The bill would require FERC to approve or deny a gas pipeline permit within one year of receiving a complete application. It also would require other agencies to approve or deny federal gas pipeline permits, such as Clean Water Act permits, within 90 days of FERC issuing its environmental review of a project.

The measure also allows agencies to receive a 30-day extension from FERC if the agency shows it cannot otherwise complete the process and would be compelled to deny the permit. However, if an agency misses its deadline the permit would be deemed approved.

The House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee approved the bill in July, but the full chamber has yet to consider the measure.

Wright said he was thankful the committee had changed the bill so that it starts FERC's 12-month clock at the time the commission receives all the needed application information, rather than when FERC announces the project to the public.

Pompeo made this change at the suggestion of FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller, who testified at a July 9 hearing of the committee's panel on energy and power.

But the 90-day deadline for other agencies is still difficult, according to Wright. "That's a rather draconian way to go about it," he said. "Be careful what you ask for."

Speaking more generally, Wright said that resource agencies are doing their best. "To be fair to these agencies, they have charges to do a lot of different things and one of those things is pipeline siting. With limited budgets, limited personnel, they are doing their triage the best they can to try and meet schedules," he said.

"My project managers know who their counterparts are at the other permitting agencies that are involved and do a pretty good job of trying to herd the cats," he said.

--Kate Winston,
--Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh,