Bloomberg Law
March 23, 2023, 9:32 AM

Gas Industry Pushes Congress, FERC to Speed Up Permit Process

Daniel Moore
Daniel Moore

Natural gas pipeline developers are pressing Congress and US energy regulators to speed up the permitting process as a way to build more projects that deliver energy to the Eastern states.

It’s a two-pronged effort in Washington, as the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America described in an interview with Bloomberg Law this week ahead of a meeting on Capitol Hill.

The first step is to move the authority to issue water quality certifications, currently delegated to state governments under the Clean Water Act, to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which issues final approvals to interstate gas pipelines.

The second is to urge Congress to amend the National Environmental Policy Act to require higher standards for legal challenges to FERC gas approvals, including requirements that claimants must have commented to FERC and file lawsuits within a timeline of 120 days of a decision.

FERC Acting Chairman Willie Phillips, a Democrat who took the gavel in January, has granted certificates to gas projects and has sped up some environmental reviews.

Phillips—replacing a chairman who was ousted last year over a move to scrutinize gas projects—pledged last week to forge consensus on the commission, which is split 2-2 between the two political parties. Phillips said he wants certainty for the industry, to not only “have things approved but to have things built.”

The natural gas industry isn’t alone in intensifying lobbying efforts in the hopes that a bipartisan desire for permitting legislation will yield a compromise this year between Democrats and Republicans. But pipeline developers, in particular, have the ear of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who blocked the renomination of former FERC chairman Richard Glick last November amid opposition from the natural gas industry.

Debate Over Gas

The debate over the future of natural gas is thorny for the Biden administration.

Environmental groups pressing for fast action on climate change don’t want any fossil fuel infrastructure locked in for future decades. Burning natural gas produces carbon dioxide, and the potent greenhouse gas methane can leak where natural gas is produced and transported.

The industry has long argued natural gas is a source of baseload power that can provide low-cost energy during times of peak demand and when wind and solar aren’t producing. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which caused Europe to seek out US gas supplies, the administration’s opposition appears to be softening, said Amy Andryszak, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America’s president and CEO.

There “seems to be more of an acknowledgment from the administration that there’s going to be a long-term need for natural gas,” Andryszak said. “I feel like, in the first year of the administration, they didn’t utter the words ‘natural gas.’”

In particular, FERC has been instrumental.

“It seems like Chairman Phillips is interested in fulfilling FERC’s mandate to continue the orderly development of natural gas at reasonable prices,” Andryszak said.

Faster Reviews

On Jan. 27, the commission quickened the environmental review process for three pipeline projects, setting them up for an environmental assessment, a shorter review than an environmental impact statement. For a fourth project, an LNG terminal in Port Arthur, Texas, it requested a supplemental environmental assessment.

The shortened time frames are “constructive for natural gas infrastructure projects and consistent with calls from Congress for streamlining permit reviews at FERC,” ClearView Energy Partners, an independent research firm, wrote in a note to clients at the time. The moves could be “early indications of potential bipartisan middle ground” on gas policy at the commission.

“The move from the EIS to the EA for several projects—and the expectation that will continue—was a very positive sign,” said Chad Zamarin, executive vice president of corporate strategic development for Williams Companies, an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company, and INGAA board chairman.

But the commission’s gas approvals continue to face legal challenges from environmental groups one year after the commission withdrew a gas policy drawn up in response to recent legal rulings. The withdrawal came after pushback from the gas industry and Manchin.

Regional Differences

While projects have adequately supplied the Gulf Coast region, in large part to feed the liquefied natural gas export boom, development in the Northeast has been stalled due to the industry’s legal troubles, Zamarin said.

Since 2020, three projects have been canceled: The 116-mile PennEast Pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey; the 600-mile Atlantic Coast pipeline from West Virginia across Virginia and into North Carolina; and the 121-mile Constitution pipeline, which would have traveled from northeast Pennsylvania to central New York. Together, those projects represented $11 billion in investment and 3.25 billion cubic feet a day of gas capacity that would have stemmed the worst of winter energy shortages, Andryszak said.

Developers have been trying to build the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile line approved by FERC in 2017, but have seen their permits struck down by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The project is awaiting the court’s ruling on a West Virginia water quality certification—the permit INGAA wants Congress to move to FERC.

“We have to get back to building,” Zamarin said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Moore in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Renee Schoof at

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