Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Actby Representative Frank Pallone Jr.
Posted on 2015-01-21
PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume
and rise in opposition to this bill.
Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, when he said that the likelihood is that we are going to have more and more pipelines constructed, pipelines that have to go through the FERC process, and that is certainly true, but all the more reason why we shouldn't be voting or supporting this bill.
I have to say I am talking not just in general in the abstract but from personal experience. In my district a few years ago, when I was a Congressman, in Edison, New Jersey, we had a natural gas pipeline explosion. Fortunately, no one was killed or seriously injured, but a whole apartment complex was wiped out, not just one building but a series of them. There was a real danger of loss of life.
It scares me, Mr. Speaker, to think that we would want to change the process whereby FERC has the opportunity to look at the safety of these pipelines when they are proposed for permitting and somehow short- circuit that process because of my own experience in my congressional district in Edison, New Jersey. Durham Woods was the name of the complex.
So many of these pipelines, as a lot more pipelines are being built, a lot of them are in densely populated areas. So it is a major concern that FERC has to look at when reviewing these pipelines and deciding whether to issue a permit. It is not as if they are in places with no people. They are often in densely populated areas, like in my State of New Jersey.
In addition, this bill is unnecessary. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office concluded that the FERC pipeline permitting process is predictable and consistent and gets pipelines built. In fact, over 90 percent are approved or at least decided within the 12- month cycle limitation that this bill is proposing.
The pipeline companies actually testified before the GAO that the process for permitting through FERC ``is generally very good'' and that the sector ``enjoys a favorable legal and regulatory framework for the approval of new infrastructure.'' So if the process is fine, why are we now trying to move ahead and endanger safety by coming up with limitations on the process that actually is very good? I would also say that if you have a 12-month limit, which is what this bill proposes on FERC's ability to issue a permit, it is very possible that the process of permitting could be slowed down because if FERC decides that they don't have enough time within 12 months to decide whether a pipeline should be built and it is safe, they may just decide to not grant the permit and deny it for fear that they haven't had enough time to deal with it over the 12 months. I think it is not only unnecessary, but it may actually even be counterproductive to what the sponsors are trying to accomplish.
I would also point out that we are wasting our time because the President has issued a Statement of Administration Policy saying that if H.R. 161 were to reach his desk, that he would actually veto it. I am not going to get into all the specifics of why because I think they are a lot of the same reasons I am mentioning myself.
Now, let me say what happens. When faced with this 12-month deadline, not only FERC but also other agencies that deal with the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act or the Endangered Species Act, other agencies that have the authority to review this and permit this under the bill, would actually only have 3 months, 90 days. So after the 12-month period ends for FERC, then there is a 90-day period for the other agencies to act. And if they don't act within 90 days, then FERC is required under this legislation to issue a permit and say that those other regulatory concerns are met.
So now you are going to have FERC not only limited in its 12-month review but also then issuing permits under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and these other environmental regulations, which it has nothing to do with. Essentially you are saying the other agencies have no role anymore because if they don't decide within 90 days, FERC has to approve those permits as well. FERC doesn't normally deal with these other issues.
Another thing which I think is important is the eminent domain issue. If the permit is approved by FERC, then that means the company that is building the pipeline has the right to use eminent domain for the land where the pipeline is going to go through. I have a lot of concern about whether or not eminent domain should be used in those circumstances, particularly if the permit process has been short- circuited.
So I think that sometimes my colleagues on the other side of the aisle don't understand that these permits are very detailed documents. They include emission limits, technology operating requirements, conditions to protect the environment. FERC doesn't have the expertise or the resources to issue the permits for these other statutes like the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act.
So I am just saying that I think that this legislation from a practical point of view is entirely unworkable. It just doesn't work. It doesn't work. The GAO has said that the process that we have now is fine. And for those of us who have had these accidents where we have had explosions and danger, the last thing that we want is these pipelines going through densely populated areas that haven't had the proper review to protect the safety and the health of our residents. For all of these reasons, I urge my colleagues to oppose this legislation.