Inhofe Highlights FERC Legislation at Senate Energy Committee

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) submitted comments for the record during today’s Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing regarding the permitting process for energy and resource infrastructure projects. Sen. Inhofe’s comments highlighted the importance of S.1844, legislation he authored with Sen. Angus King (I-ME) on streamlining pipeline approval processes.

Key excerpts:

“Our infrastructure is failing us and we are falling behind our international competitors who can build out new infrastructure quicker, efficiently moving goods to market.  We need to tackle new projects and we need to do more to maintain and upgrade existing infrastructure.  Unfortunately, delays in the permitting process happen too often and add significant costs - to the detriment of taxpayers and consumers.  One study by Common Good found that a six-year delay more than doubles the effective cost of a project.  We must consider ways to make infrastructure funding go further and streamlining the permitting process is a natural fit in a broader infrastructure package.  I am confident Congress will take action soon – action that is vital for the economic health of our nation. …

“In that same vein, earlier this year I introduced the Coordinating Interagency Review of Natural Gas Infrastructure Act of 2017 (S. 1844) with Senator King.  S. 1844 will improve the process to permit certain natural gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas facilitates.  While FERC generally does a good job carrying out its infrastructure permitting responsibilities, Senator King and I introduced this legislation narrowly to target known inter-agency slowdowns in the permitting process for Natural Gas Act Section 3 and Section 7 applications.  S. 1844 is supported by API, INGAA, NGSA, and the Center for LNG and I encourage the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to consider and act on this important legislation.”

Full Comments as submitted:

Thank you, Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell, for holding this hearing on permitting processes at the Department of Interior (DOI) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for energy and resource infrastructure projects. 

Our infrastructure is failing us and we are falling behind our international competitors who can build out new infrastructure quicker, efficiently moving goods to market.  We need to tackle new projects and we need to do more to maintain and upgrade existing infrastructure.  Unfortunately, delays in the permitting process happen too often and add significant costs - to the detriment of taxpayers and consumers.  One study by Common Good found that a six-year delay more than doubles the effective cost of a project.  We must consider ways to make infrastructure funding go further and streamlining the permitting process is a natural fit in a broader infrastructure package.  I am confident Congress will take action soon – action that is vital for the economic health of our nation.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA) serve important purposes when implemented efficiently and as intended by Congress.  The intent of these two statutes is to allow agencies and stakeholders to identify and assess potential impacts from infrastructure projects and collaboratively, and concurrently approve a project that minimizes environmental impacts and best addresses stakeholder concerns.  

Unfortunately, implementation of NEPA and CWA by the previous administration has created a standard of delay and inefficiency – preventing economic development.  Rather than allowing federal agencies, states and other agencies to act constructively together, these statutes are increasingly being misused to create delays and foster unproductive entrenchments.  Environmental reviews under NEPA have ballooned due, in part, to litigation fears, resulting in exhaustive documents and protracted efforts that leave no pebble unturned.  Regulations promulgated by the Council on Environmental Quality in 1978 set a target size for Environmental Impact Statements (EIS).  These regulations are still in effect and state that EISs should normally not exceed 150 pages in length and 300 pages in length for proposals of unusual scope or complexity.  This is rarely followed.  FERC, for example, has issued four Final EISs this year.  Excluding appendices, they all weighed in well above that limit: 567; 866; 930; and, 485 pages, respectively.  Including appendices, they don’t even come close: 1,699; 7,378; 6,971; and, 2,473 pages, respectively.  This is symptomatic of a system stretched well beyond its intent.

The framework of the Clean Water Act provides for all Section 401 permits to be acted upon within a reasonable period of time, not to exceed one year after receipt of a request.  Some state environmental agencies increasingly abuse permit requests, insisting that applicants withdraw (and refile) requests because the state hasn’t been able to meet its statutory obligation.  This process re-starts the annual clock and clearly abuses the intent of the CWA.  More troubling, states are increasingly abandoning their objectivity and withholding Section 401 permits, not as a result of reasoned analysis but rather in an attempt to obstruct infrastructure proposals. 

In my role as Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman, I led the way on a number of infrastructure bills that included provisions to make cumbersome and costly permitting processes better.  We amended NEPA to create concurrent reviews between agencies and targeted timeframes for completion of reviews.  We raised independent peer review triggers from $45 million to $200 million to prevent frivolous studies.

In that same vein, earlier this year I introduced the Coordinating Interagency Review of Natural Gas Infrastructure Act of 2017 (S. 1844) with Senator King.  S. 1844 will improve the process to permit certain natural gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas facilitates.  While FERC generally does a good job carrying out its infrastructure permitting responsibilities, Senator King and I introduced this legislation narrowly to target known inter-agency slowdowns in the permitting process for Natural Gas Act Section 3 and Section 7 applications.  S. 1844 is supported by API, INGAA, NGSA, and the Center for LNG and I encourage the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to consider and act on this important legislation.

Funding from private sources should not be discouraged from investing in infrastructure.   Private investment, unquestionably, benefits everyone.  Permitting processes, however, must provide consistency and demonstrate that agencies are urgently and constructively working together.  Without this, competition among, and indeed participation by, private funding sources will not materialize.  Streamlining efforts should always focus on these principles.  

Thank you again, Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell, for holding this hearing.  As you know, we must continue to assess what is working and what is not working in our existing statutes.  I look forward to working with you and the full Senate as we take action to streamline infrastructure permitting.