The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s redo of controversial natural gas pipeline policies needs buy-in from at least one Republican as well as industry, Commissioner Willie Phillips, a crucial Democratic vote on the policy, told a gathering of energy lawyers on Tuesday.
“My staff and I are still reviewing comments, but I’ll say that any solution that can be successful has to have buy-in from our stakeholders,” Phillips told a conference of the Energy Bar Association in Washington. “Going forward, I want to ensure any change in our policy is responsive to feedback, provides a roadmap for project development, and is legally durable and practical.”
“I look forward with my colleagues on this on a bipartisan basis to resolve this issue,” Phillips added, emphasizing the word “bipartisan.”
The commission is accepting reply comments this month on the now-draft policy statements, which had been approved in February by a 3-2 Democratic majority. Blowback from the gas industry and politicians—including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee—prompted the commission to walk back those policies in March.
Phillips’ comments underscore that gas policy negotiations at the commission will seek to sway at least Commissioner Mark Christie, a Republican former state utility regulator who has signaled an openness to revising natural gas policy.
The policy, which governs the commission’s review of interstate natural gas pipelines, hasn’t been updated since 1999.
The Democrat-supported policy in February had put forth a tougher look at the economic need for new pipelines and widened consideration of climate change impacts and environmental justice concerns. It also set a greenhouse gas threshold for pipelines and liquefied natural gas terminals.
Republican members saw the policy as overreaching and subjecting projects to further delays and legal uncertainty.
In March, Phillips and Christie joined on joint concurrences in three pipeline approvals, writing that they want more guidance from the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency on assessing project-level emissions. The EPA has commented, but the CEQ has not.
The commission is under pressure to act as the five-year term of Richard Glick, the current Democratic chair, will expire on June 30, and he has yet to be renominated by the White House. Glick, even if not renominated, can remain on the commission until the end of the year.
The commission may wind up “softening” both policy statements relative to its February proposals, wrote ClearView Energy Partners, an independent research firm in Washington, in a research report to clients on Monday summarizing the public comments so far.
The lack of substantive guidance from CEQ, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, considerations of delays with connecting renewables to the grid, and Glick’s uncertain renomination will all factor into the talks, ClearView wrote.
On Tuesday, Phillips said he would press for his own priorities in talks about the policy.
Those include “that natural gas projects provide needed service to ensure reliability” and that “impacts to environmental justice communities are considered and that we account–as much as we can, in a legally durable way–climate impacts,” Phillips said.