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US senators aim to ease pipeline permitting after latest Keystone XL setback

Highlights

Bill seen as short-term fix for program hit by court challenge

TC Energy pursuing 'other permitting means' during Montana suit

Washington — US Senate Republicans from energy-producing states are pushing for infrastructure permitting reforms after a fast-track program came under court challenge this year and became the latest roadblock for the Keystone XL heavy crude pipeline.

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Senator John Cornyn of Texas introduced Aug. 4 a bill to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act "to clarify certain activities that would have been authorized under Nationwide Permit 12 and other Nationwide Permits," according to the preliminary text of the bill.

Co-sponsors include senators from Alaska, Oklahoma, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Katie Bays, managing director of FiscalNote Markets, said the co-sponsors signal that the measure is likely aimed at the Northern Plains Resource Council lawsuit against the US Army Corps of Engineers.

In that case, a Montana judge in April vacated the Corps of Engineers' NWP12 program and prevented the Corps from using it to authorize construction across waterways. The US Supreme Court later allowed the permits to resume during the appeals process, except in the case of TC Energy's long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline project from Alberta to Nebraska.

TC Energy said July 30 that it intends to pursue "other permitting means" to authorize waterway crossings and get the project back on track.

Bays said the bill's sponsors likely want to ensure that pipelines have access to NWP12 permitting even if a future administration makes a decision that pipelines should be permitted using the more onerous process of individual permitting.

The American Petroleum Institute said the bill would bring "an efficient, short-term solution to restore regulatory certainty and allow continued development of critical infrastructure projects affected by recent federal court decisions" by ensuring the Corps and project owners could continue to rely on NWP12.

Bays predicted the Cornyn bill may move through the Environment and Public Works Committee, but does not have a realistic chance of passage by the full Senate.

"It looks like political messaging to me, and certainly we've seen the White House use the pipeline industry and energy broadly as a political signal in recent weeks," she said.