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May 2023 Exclusive Story

Industry Advocates Make Case For Permitting Reform

WASHINGTON—A letter to the U.S. Senate leadership from the Natural Gas Council calls for policies to improve and expedite federal permitting by setting straightforward timelines, spelling out the scope of agency reviews and reducing the uncertainty around judicial review.

“Clear, predictable infrastructure permitting processes remain instrumental to achieving our shared energy, economic, security and climate-related goals,” the letter emphasizes. “Unfortunately, the current processes to site and approve new and expanded infrastructure remain cumbersome, often stalling projects for years with duplicative reviews, unnecessarily burdensome approvals and unending legal challenges.”

The council is composed of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, American Petroleum Institute, American Gas Association, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America and Natural Gas Supply Association. The letter was sent to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Ranking Member John Barrasso, R-Wy., as well as Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-De., and Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V.

The letter argues that federal permitting reform is critical to a reliable, secure and affordable clean energy future. “Importantly, Congress can take these steps without compromising the United States’ environmental protections or our nation’s commitment to a clean energy future,” the council maintains.

Seeking Transparent Efficiency

The letter stresses that permitting reform supports environmental stewardship. It cites U.S. Energy Information Administration data showing that—thanks to fuel-switching to natural gas—U.S. power sector carbon dioxide emissions fell by a third between 2005 and 2019 while electricity generation climbed about 2%.

Gas-fired generation’s contributions to a clean energy future go beyond displacing coal. “Natural gas also supports the growth of renewable energy by providing reliable, dispatchable fuel and storage that minimizes the risk of power disruptions during times of intermittent load,” the letter observes. “Therefore, expanding modern natural gas networks is essential to safely deliver energy to businesses and consumers while lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”

Despite the fuel’s numerous benefits, natural gas use has been curbed unnecessarily by infrastructure shortcomings, it suggests. Moreover, the letter continues, those shortcomings are largely attributable to onerous permitting requirements that stymie or stall projects from their earliest stages.

“These inefficiencies hamper access to domestic natural gas resources, creating reliance on imports, raising energy costs in certain regions, and, in the worst cases, limiting access to energy during periods of extreme weather,” the council assesses.

The letter highlights a couple longstanding statutes with a history of imposing increasingly demanding permitting conditions through both case law and regulatory proceedings: The Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Both laws, the letter maintains, are overdue for Congressional attention that will streamline federal requirements and make permitting more transparent.

“Congress must reform the CWA certification process to promote efficiency, properly scope state reviews and conditioning of permits, eliminate inconsistent results across agencies, and ensure that agencies use the process only to protect water quality, not pursue unrelated goals,” the council recommends. “Congress should also eliminate unnecessarily long and unduly burdensome NEPA reviews by clarifying agencies should only analyze reasonably foreseeable environmental effects causally related to the proposed project, focusing analyses on feasible alternatives, and establishing review schedules.”

The letter also urges lawmakers to impose deadlines on the process to speed construction, while also calling for the law to shed light on regulators’ decisions. “Congress should end pointless, project-killing delays by establishing timelines for judicial review of CWA certifications and NEPA reviews and requiring a clear connection between the project and effects on water quality before a court can vacate a certificate and prolong the review process,” the letter says.

“To fulfill America’s energy, economic, security and climate-related goals, the Natural Gas Council and the companies we represent stand ready to work in a bipartisan manner to enact durable permitting provisions that enable development of the energy infrastructure needed to continue delivering the benefits of natural gas to the American people,” it concludes.

Signatories on the letter are IPAA President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Eshelman, API Senior Vice President Frank Macchiarola, INGA President and CEO Amy Andryszak, AGA President and CEO Karen Harbert and NGSA President and CEO Dena Wiggins.

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