The House voted Wednesday to prevent future presidents from scuttling oil and gas pipelines, like the Keystone XL project, that run across international borders.
Lawmakers voted to give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authority over the approval of interstate natural gas pipelines, and passed a measure granting the agency sole responsibility for permitting all pipelines that cross the U.S. border with Canada or Mexico.
The vote was a shot across the bow of the Obama administration. Former President Barack Obama used his executive powers to deny a permit to TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline in 2015, a 1,700-mile project that is expected to carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.
TransCanada, the company building the project, initially applied for a cross-border permit in 2008, and the Department of State subsequently found that the project would have no significant impact on the environment or on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Obama argued that the project would hurt the country’s ability to limit climate change.
President Donald Trump overturned his predecessor’s decree in January, a move that roiled environmentalists and some Democrats that believed the project was bad for the environment.
Activist groups sued the Trump administration over Keystone’s approval, arguing that the pipeline needed to go through another environmental review before going forward. They filed suit in a federal court in Montana — one of the states through which the project will run.
The changes could get put on the back burner, however, because the Senate has not voted to approve any of the president’s FERC nominees, which could give the agency back its quorum after a handful of members retired. The commission has been shut down since February because it does not have enough members to overcome a gridlocked decision.
Trump’s decision to approve Keystone and the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota prompted environmentalists to attack nearly every ongoing pipeline project under discussion. They’ve now turned their ire towards the short-handed agency.
Democrats and Republicans have dragged their feet on the nominations, and anti-pipeline protesters have promised to hound Trump’s FERC nominees until the end of the president’s first term. Activists interrupted the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in May while House members heard testimonies from the nominees, Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson.
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