On July 9, 2013, FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller testified before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power with regard to HR 1900, the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act (the “Act”).  Testifying in an individual capacity, Commissioner Moeller offered his personal views on the Act.

The Act would expand section 7 of the Natural Gas Act, and is designed to expedite the pipeline application process with respect to siting, construction, expansion, or operation of natural gas pipelines. This expansion would require FERC to approve or deny an application no later than 12 months after notice of the application is provided.  In addition, once FERC issues its final environmental document relating to a project, the agency responsible for issuing the certificate of public convenience and necessity would have 90 days to issue or deny the certificate.  An agency may request a 30 day extension of the deadline for unforeseen circumstances, but if no decision is rendered during the applicable timeframe, the certificate would take effect.

Commissioner Moeller testified that since Federal Fiscal Year 2009, 549 pipeline applications were submitted to FERC.  Of those 549 applications, projects with prior notice or no protests averaged 75 days before FERC issued its decision, while projects with protests, policy issues, or major construction averaged 375 days before a decision was issued.  With regard to these numbers, Commissioner Moeller assured the Subcommittee that the 12-month deadline for rendering a decision was achievable.  However, Commissioner Moeller requested that the language of the bill be clarified to read that FERC is required to render a decision within the 12-month timeframe after FERC determines an application is complete.

Commissioner Moeller praised the 90 day timeline for “resource agencies” to render a decision on the certificate of public convenience.  However, Commissioner Moeller offered words of caution that “without high level agency oversight directing the agencies to prioritize these permits, a timeline could result in agencies either denying permits or adding burdensome conditions…but if regional managers of resource agencies make it a priority to review permits for proposed projects, timely decisions can result.”

Commissioner Moeller also testified that all natural gas pipeline developers should take advantage of FERC’s “pre-filing” process to expedite the application process, and suggested that all states consider adding a “one-stop resource agency to coordinate state decisions on proposed pipelines.”

A copy of Commissioner Moeller’s testimony is available here. A copy of HR 1900 is available here.