On June 7, 2017, Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate that would, among other things, revise the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) to require FERC to (1) review two proposed interstate pipeline projects together under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (“NEPA”) if the two pipelines are proposed within one year of each other and would be within 100 miles apart and (2) ensure that open houses regarding a proposed pipeline occur in each county in which the pipeline would be located. In addition, on June 13, 2017, Representative H. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) introduced a similar bill in the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
In a statement regarding the bill – called the Pipeline Fairness and Transparency Act – Senator Kaine said, “FERC’s job is to adjudicate the public interest, especially when eminent domain is involved, and this requires taking public input more seriously.” Notably, the Senate bill proposes to amend the NGA by, among other things:
• Requiring a public meeting to be held in each county or equivalent subdivision in which a project would be located and requiring publication of a draft environmental impact statement (“EIS”), final EIS, and supplemental EIS to be available at each meeting, as applicable;
• Requiring FERC to consider two projects together for the purposes of NEPA if the projects are proposed within one year of each other and would be within 100 miles apart;
• Directing a court with jurisdiction over an eminent domain proceeding to consider the lost conservation value of land subject to a conservation easement in determining the just compensation for the land;
• Allowing for FERC to prepare a supplement EIS if FERC determines that comments in response to the draft EIS raise issues that exceed the scope of the draft EIS or if the draft EIS does not include information about mitigation plans;
• Requiring FERC to consider the cumulative visual impacts of a newly proposed project at the pre-filing or filing stage that would impact the same national scenic trail within 100 miles of a separately proposed project;
• Directing FERC to include in an EIS visual impact simulations depicting leaf-on and leaf-off views at each location where major visual impacts to national scenic trails are identified; and
• Prohibiting amendments to a National Forest management plan if the changes result in a net degradation to the national scenic trail.