House panel looks at energy infrastructure on the border

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on Energy and Power will hold a hearing on the North American Energy Infrastructure Act, H.R. 3301, on Oct. 29.

The bill involves streamlined approvals for construction of oil and natural gas pipelines, as well as electric transmission lines, at the national boundary of the United States for the import or export of oil, natural gas, or electricity to or from Canada or Mexico.

A memorandum on the bill, posted on the panel’s website, said current approval procedures are set forth in a series of executive orders created in an “ad hoc fashion” over multiple presidential administrations.

The bill would expedite the approval process, eliminate presidential permits and potentially limit FERC authority on power lines crossing the border into Canada or Mexico.

The bill says that Congress should establish a more “uniform, transparent, and modern process” for approving construction and operation of such energy facilities. The legislation would further a “more secure and efficient North American energy market,” according to the bill’s language.

The bill would require that the “relevant official,” after conferring with appropriate federal agencies, approve such infrastructure projects within 120 days unless the project is found “not in the national security interests of the United States.”

The secretary of commerce would be the relevant official for oil pipelines; FERC would serve that role for gas pipelines and the secretary of energy for electric transmission, according to the bill.

The bill says development of such infrastructure projects shall not be considered a major federal action under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The bill does include a provision that electric transmission facilities would have to pass muster with the electric reliability organization or independent system operator for the transmission grid.

“No Presidential permit (or similar permit),” would be required under the infrastructure bill.

Witnesses scheduled to testify include Jeff Wright, the director of FERC’s Office of Energy Projects. Other witnesses will represent the Manhattan Institute, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, the Canadian Electricity Association, and Plains All American Pipeline, L.P.

In his pre-filed testimony, FERC’s Wright said the current version of the bill does not include mention of public notice and comment or allowing a potential rehearing. Wright also questioned if a 120-day deadline would allow development of an adequate public record on the request.

“In fact, the proposed language could be read as giving the Commission no discretion in the issuance of an authorization to construct border facilities, unless there are national security concerns,” FERC’s Wright said in his pre-filed testimony.

FERC’s Wright also said in the written testimony that the bill appears to curb FERC authority on approving power line projects on the border.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) are among the sponsors of the infrastructure act.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.