Global energy change through increased use of natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) has been the focus of this week’s World Gas Conference (WGC).  The WGC, sponsored by the International Gas Union, has convened these conferences once every three years since 1931.  This year’s meeting is being held in the U.S. for the first time since the natural gas boom that has occurred over the past ten years.  The U.S. is now the world’s largest producer of natural gas and has begun to export LNG (a dramatic change from only a few years ago, when the U.S. imported both gas and LNG).

Continue Reading Global Energy Change: Increased Use of Natural Gas and LNG

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) officially announced that it is going to review its policy framework for certification of new interstate natural gas and LNG pipelines in the U.S. and issued a Notice of Inquiry (Notice or NOI).  This is the first time in nearly twenty years that FERC will examine its pipeline review and approval policy, last issued in 1999.  Kevin McIntyre, the current FERC Chairman, said review of the policy is intended to determine ‘whether, and if so, how’ any changes should be made in the evaluation of new pipeline projects.  The NOI establishes a 60-day public comment period, beginning with publication in the Federal Register, thus the deadline for comments is June 25, 2018.

Continue Reading Continuing Review of New Pipeline Projects

The U.S. DOT and 10 other federal agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on April 9, 2018, which became effective on April 10, 2018.  The MOU[1] is intended to implement Executive Order 13807 (Aug. 15, 2017), which established a “One Federal Decision” policy for infrastructure projects that require authorizations by multiple federal agencies. Under the MOU, a lead federal agency must be designated to be responsible for addressing compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the preparation of a single Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The lead agency will establish a single Permitting Timetable that all federal agencies must follow. The MOU mandates that all federal authorizations must be resolved within 90 days of issuance of the lead agency’s Record of Decision (ROD) on the EIS, with limited exceptions.

There have been problems on large pipeline construction projects in recent years getting all federal agencies to agree on an approach to permitting review and timetables.  The MOU addresses that by requiring all agencies to work on a single approach and timeline, and to develop the policies necessary to do so.  It also requires all environmental review to be complete no later than two years from issuance of a Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an EIS for a new project.  Additionally, the MOU specifies three “concurrence points” at which all involved agencies are requested to reach consensus on NEPA project review and approval: (1) Purpose and Need; (2) identification of Alternatives; and (3) selection of the Preferred Alternative.

For new natural gas pipeline construction projects, FERC will continue to be the lead agency preparing an EIS, but any cooperating agencies must now comply with a uniform schedule for review and input.  Although not required by the MOU, state, local and tribal agencies will be invited to voluntarily participate in the single permitting timetable process.

The MOU was welcomed by many as a means to achieve permit streamlining, a concept that Congress has attempted to address over the years, as noted in our prior posts regarding both House and Senate efforts [see prior pipelaws posts, August 4, 2017, July 5, 2017]. It also harkens to President Trump’s January 2017 Presidential Memorandum addressing permit streamlining for domestic manufacturing.  As a representative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said of this new MOU, “It shouldn’t take longer to approve a project than to build it.”  Opponents of new infrastructure projects, including pipelines, note that the courts are still deliberating on whether and to what extent large projects need to consider climate change impacts under NEPA.  Challenges such as that are not addressed directly by the MOU, but in theory the MOU will foster a consolidated position by all federal agencies involved.

While the MOU stands to improve the coordination and timing among federal agencies, it is only aspirational, speaking in terms of “goals” and “milestones” that are ultimately non-binding. It may also place more burdens on project applicants, to ensure that all agencies are, in fact, coordinating and adhering to the timetable, etc., and that any disputes are identified and resolved in a timely manner.

In addition, challenges to permits and approvals at the local and state level will be unaffected by this MOU. New infrastructure projects continue to face opposition by environmental or citizen groups, and increasingly states too have posed challenges to large scale projects. For example, as noted in our prior post of July 5, 2017, projects such as Millennium Pipeline Company that received prior FERC approval have found themselves in the U.S. Courts of Appeals addressing state challenges. The Second Circuit recently issued a favorable decision in the Mellennium appeal , however, holding firm to the plain language in the Clean Water Act that the timeline for a state’s action in response to a request for a water quality certification is one year from receipt of the request.

[1] The MOU was signed by the heads of the Department of Transportation; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; the Environmental Protection Agency; Department of Energy; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Department of the Interior; Department of Agriculture; Department of Commerce; Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council.

On August 3, 2017, the Senate confirmed both Neil Chatterjee (R) and Robert Powelson (R) as FERC Commissioners, returning FERC to a quorum after six months.  FERC has been unable to issue major decisions without a quorum, although staff work has continued to work on a variety of fronts, including issuing environmental reviews for various pipeline construction and other energy projects.  The Senate confirmations should be a relief for the energy industry, which has been subject to prolonged uncertainty as major project approvals have been at a standstill since February.

The quorum will be restored as soon as Chatterjee and Powelson are sworn in, which historically has taken from one to three weeks.  The confirmation of the nominations of Chatterjee, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Powelson, a Pennsylvania regulator, brings the Commission to 3 members of what is typically a 5 member Commission.  Trump previously announced nominations of Kevin McIntyre (R), an energy lawyer in private practice, and Richard Glick (D), a Senate aide, for the two remaining vacancies weeks ago, but only nominated them formally this week.  The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has scheduled a hearing on those nominations for September 7, 2017.

Continue Reading Senate Confirmations to Restore FERC Quorum; Committee to Review Permit Streamlining Bill

On July 19, 2017, the U.S. House voted to give lead authority for authorizing cross border oil and gas pipelines to FERC, and to the Secretary of Energy for cross border electric transmission lines.  HR 2883, entitled Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act, removes the requirement for such cross border energy infrastructure to obtain Presidential Permits and instead establishes a 120 day review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Natural Gas Act to obtain a “Certificate of Crossing.”

Continue Reading House Moves to End Requirement for Presidential Permits

President Trump plans to nominate Kevin McIntyre to serve as chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  McIntyre currently works in private practice in the energy regulatory sector and has for 30 years. With McIntyre’s nomination, there will be four commissioner candidates in various stages of the nomination and confirmation process.

Continue Reading Trump Selects Kevin McIntyre to Chair FERC

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently published a notice inviting public comment to identify statutes, rules, regulations, and interpretations in policy statements or guidance that “unjustifiably delay or prevent completion of surface, maritime, and aviation transportation infrastructure projects.”  As stated in the notice [attached], in keeping with President Trump’s regulatory reform agenda, DOT and other federal agencies are in the process of reviewing existing policy statements, guidance documents, and regulations that might pose impediments to transportation infrastructure projects.   The upcoming deadline to provide input on that review is July 24, 2017.  We encourage industry to consider submitting comments, particularly given DOT’s statement that comments are not restricted to burdensome regulations, but also extend to policy statements, interpretations and guidance.

Continue Reading Deadline Approaching for Input on Regulatory Improvements

A bill intended to streamline the siting of natural gas pipelines and increase transparency is advancing through the U.S. House.  As approved by voice vote, H.R. 2910 , would facilitate concurrent federal and state agency reviews to help streamline the siting review process under the Natural Gas Act (NGA) which is led by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  This bill comes at a time when the permitting process for natural gas pipelines has become protracted, cumbersome, and subject to third party challenges and delays at the federal, state and local levels.

Continue Reading Legislation Advances to Streamline Natural Gas Permitting

President Trump announced that he will nominate Richard Glick to serve as a commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  Glick currently serves as the General Counsel for the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and is a Democrat.  Glick also previously worked as a lobbyist in the energy industry.

Continue Reading FERC Still Lacks Quorum as Trump Announces Nomination of Glick

In an effort to resolve the lack of a quorum at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), yesterday President Trump nominated Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to fill Commissioner vacancies.  Mr. Chatterjee is the senior energy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and previously worked with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.  Mr. Powelson is a current member of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission and president of National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.  If the nominees are confirmed, FERC will regain a quorum, which it has not had since early February.  Reports have also signaled that Trump is expected to nominate Kevin McIntyre, an energy lawyer in private practice, to serve as the Commission Chairman.

Continue Reading Trump Takes Steps to Move FERC Towards a Quorum