Washington Watch

The pipeline approval "speed up" bill hit a couple of speed bumps on July 9. At hearings in a House subcommittee, the unofficial "pipeline" commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) pointed out some potential unintended consequences that might come about if the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act (H.R. 1900) as initially written becomes law.

There probably will be neither tears nor jeers from the pipeline community over the departure of FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff. He announced his exit in late May and is staying on until President Obama nominates a successor.

The EPA says it has some fairly significant problems with the State Department's draft environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL Pipeline. The State Department draft supplemental EIS (DSEIS) was based on assessment of a new alternative route proposed by TransCanada.

A Senate committee gave a big boost to a new source of water infrastructure spending by including an amendment in the Water Resources Development Act (S. 601). That WRDA bill passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on March 20 by a unanimous vote.

The Obama administration's positive draft environmental impact statement on the final, four-state leg of the Keystone XL pipeline appears to set approval by the State Department on an exorable path.

Separate regulatory and legislative developments could affect local government ability to afford water infrastructure projects. The Environmental Protection Agency is considering revisions to the agency's 1997 financial capability guidelines which dictate how hard the agency can press cities and counties to undertake expensive Clean Water Act projects such as sewer repairs.

Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor

The most significant federal action this year affecting underground construction companies is likely to be the final rule from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) on excavation damage. The rule will have two parts. One will define minimum excavation damage program standards for states.

A final rule meant to limit pipeline damage from excavation should be made final sometime later this summer. Two advisory committees voted their approval and authorized changes to the proposed rule the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued in April 2012. Many of the changes the advisory committee green lighted appeared designed to toughen requirements on excavators.

The Department of Energy published a report from NERA Economic Consulting which concludes unlimited exports of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) will help the U.S. economy, and the greater the exports, the greater the public good. The DOE automatically approves LNG exports to countries with a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. But it must find that exports to countries without FTAs are in the public interest. The DOE commissioned the report to help it decide whether to approve additional non-FTA exports.

The results of the November presidential and congressional elections portend "more of the same" with regard to issues of interest to the gas transmission industry. Current regulatory dockets already underway will continue along their current track. Those dockets concern greenhouse gas emissions, the integrity management program and fracking.

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