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House keeps passing energy development bills

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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With lightning speed, the House passed its third bill this week aimed at facilitating U.S. energy development, approving a bill that would speed up permitting times for natural gas pipelines.

The National Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act passed the House by a 252-165 margin, garnering support from 26 Democrats. It is the third in a series of bills aimed at bolstering domestic energy production by cutting regulatory red tape and opening more federal lands for drilling.

“Huge increases in natural gas production are driving America’s energy boom, but that progress is being throttled by an infrastructure system that hasn’t kept pace with our changing energy landscape,” said Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo, who introduced the bill.

The U.S. energy boom has drastically cut the price of natural gas, causing demand for the fuel to rise. However, Republicans argue that the current infrastructure is insufficient to meet the growing gas demand, in particularly on the east coast.

The bill would force the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve gas pipelines within 12 months. It would also require other federal agencies to approve of permits within 90 days. Failure to meet the deadline means that the project will be allowed to move forward.

“New pipelines needed to accommodate increased production are mired in a review process marked by needless delays and missed deadlines,” Pompeo added. “This bill holds bureaucrats accountable for meeting approval deadlines without compromising environmental safeguards.”

Democrats opposed the bill, arguing that most pipelines are approved within 12 months already and that expediting the permitting process would not alleviate higher gas prices on the east coast.

“Instead of expediting the expansion of natural gas pipelines across the country, it would disrupt FERC’s natural gas permitting process, which right now is already getting thousands of miles of pipelines permitted in a timely manner,” said Rep. Cathy Castor, a Florida Democrat.

“The pipeline companies haven’t been satisfied that there’s a sufficient year-round demand … to justify and finance these pipelines,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat. “Cutting corners on the permitting process isn’t going to get additional pipeline capacity built for the Northeast.”

The two parties even argued about whether unions supported the bill.

“Mr. Chairman I know of no unions supporting this bill,” Waxman said on the House floor.

“Earlier it was stated that some folks were unaware of union support for this legislation,” Pompeo countered. “I just want to make sure that everyone is fully aware that the Laborers’ International Union of North America, United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, and the Operating Engineers have all been supportive of H.R. 1900.”

All three of the House energy bills that passed this week have been opposed by the Obama administration, meaning they will essentially be dead on arrival in the Senate. The White House opposed the bill expediting natural gas pipelines on grounds it undermines the permitting process.

“The bill’s requirements could force agencies to make decisions based on incomplete information or information that may not be available within the stringent deadlines, and to deny applications that otherwise would have been approved, but for lack of sufficient review time,” the White House said in a statement. “For these reasons, the bill may actually delay projects or lead to more project denials, undermining the intent of the legislation.”

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