Worried about Wyden

December 2012, Vol. 67 No. 12

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.

But the most significant result of the election may be legislative, meaning the retirement of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). Sen. Ron Wyden's (D-OR) ascension to the chairmanship of that committee brings a legislator who has been sometimes critical of pipeline operations to a position where he can, to put it politely, cause trouble for the industry. But the biggest concern may be a person, not an issue.

Wyden has been an outspoken critic of some proposed Oregon pipeline projects, complaining about routes that would travel through sensitive areas, such as the Palomar project slated to run through Mt. Hood National Forest. That pipeline is now on hold in part because an LNG terminal linked to the project filed for bankruptcy. A few days before the November election, for example, Wyden voiced opposition to the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the U.S. to countries with which America has a free trade agreement (FTA). That has been legal for years. The Department of Energy rubber stamps such applications so any restrictions would be a step backwards. In fact, in the last Congress, many legislators pushed for more liberal DOE exports of LNG -- for which there have been many applications -- to non-FTA countries. The DOE closely examines those, and almost all of them are under review.

Wyden also proposed amendments last summer that would have impeded construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Asked whether Wyden might pursue legislation giving the states more say in pipeline siting, Keith Chu, Wyden's press secretary, says, "Senator Wyden has long said state and local governments should have a role in siting facilities that may impact local communities, but it’s too early to talk about what bills Senator Wyden may pursue next year."