Trump officials examining states' authority in pipeline delays: officials consider overruling st
🔴 TRUMP, HIS ADMINISTRATION & FERC WANT TO OVERRULE STATES WHO TRY TO STOP PIPELINES
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"After years of pipeline projects getting held up or derailed by environmental concerns, the Trump administration is examining ways to get around state roadblocks that have made it increasingly difficult to build in certain parts of the United States.
In late October, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission startled many state officials when it granted a construction permit for a natural gas pipeline in New York, despite state regulators turning down the developer over concerns the project would increase greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has for months discussed the possibility of using federal authority to speed infrastructure development, a potential political third rail for Republicans who have long proclaimed the sanctity of states' rights.
"This is an administration that's going to carry out its agenda by all means necessary," said Devashree Saha, director of energy and environmental policy at the Council of State Governments, a nonpartisan advocate for state governments. "The New York example is the first we're seeing, but it could be a harbinger of things to come."
FERC's action comes as the oil and gas industry increases pressure on the administration and lawmakers to intervene against an increasingly visible "Keep it in the Ground" movement that is leading campaigns across the country to stop pipelines, drilling and other activities that support production and consumption of fossil fuels, the primary cause of global warming. Political leaders in a handful of Northeast states, most visibly New York, are beginning to listen, in some cases factoring climate change into regulatory decisions.
"We have to break that logjam, to stop one state from having virtual veto power," Dena Wiggins, president of the Natural Gas Supply Association, told Energy Department officials at an industry event last month. "If other states start to have a more expansive view of their (environmental authority) it could be a problem."
Balancing states' rightsBut any action to use federal authority to override state decisions on energy projects poses a political risk for President Donald Trump. A contentious issue throughout U.S. history, such a move would likely draw considerable opposition from Democrats and Republicans alike, which FERC Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, a Trump appointee, acknowledged recently when asked about federal intervention during a public talk.
"We just have to understand the country's needs and balance that," he said, before telling the audience, "I'm a big believer in states' rights."The White House and the Energy Department declined to comment.Chatterjee's remarks came a month after FERC, a bipartisan commission on which four of the five commissioners were appointed by Trump, approved the construction of an eight-mile natural gas pipeline under development by Millennium Pipeline Co., even after New York environmental officials rejected the project, citing the impact on climate change and local wetlands and wildlife.
Under the federal Clean Water Act, such projects must get state approval before construction to protect against contamination. But FERC ruled New York took too long to act, a decision the state's attorneys are challenging in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"It's unusual," said James Hoecker, an energy attorney and former FERC chairman during the Clinton administration. "The Clean Water Act is something that is typically respected in a FERC (approval) process. It's not very often that FERC and the state come to total disagreement on these things."
The FERC decision got the attention of not only state officials but also pipeline companies. After Millennium, a New York company, filed its challenge of the state's denial, Williams Co. followed suit, filing an application to FERC for its 125-mile Constitution pipeline, which New York rejected last year.Williams declined to comment. Within the pipeline industry, however, there is a growing sentiment that FERC under the Trump administration is friendlier to their projects.
"FERC is an independent agency, and I can't say we were treated poorly under past administrations," said Don Santa, president of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, a trade group. "But I do think the new commissioners appreciate the need for new infrastructure, and the pipeline opponents are looking for every opportunity to throw a wrench in the gears."
4-year permit processWithin the Trump administration, officials are looking for other ways to speed construction as they see a potential shortage of pipeline capacity unable to keep up with the growing U.S. oil and gas production, which Trump has made a key component of his economic agenda. At a September meeting of the National Petroleum Council, Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told the industry advisory committee that his department was examining how it might use eminent domain powers to get pipelines and other infrastructure built more quickly."
It would be the irony of ironies. We'd have all this production and no way to move it to market," he said. "We're going to look very hard at that and determine where we might go, appropriately."
In New England, which relies increasingly on natural gas for electricity production as coal and nuclear plants have shuttered, a lack of pipelines to deliver the gas has helped make power prices there among the highest in the nation. At the same time, the sentiment against fossil fuels - and pipeline construction - is strong in the region. Last year, Houston-based Kinder Morgan halted a pipeline project across Massachusetts and New Hampshire after a swell of opposition that included Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
More than five pipelines are scheduled to come online in the Northeast during the next year, representing 11 billion cubic feet a day of gas capacity - enough to power more than 250,000 homes - said Luke Jackson, an analyst at S&P Global Platts. But less than a third of that is under construction, leaving the possibility that environmental action could cause delays."It's a hell of a lot more difficult to build a pipe in the Northeast than it is in Texas," Jackson said.
Finding ways to speed the up to four years it takes to permit a pipeline has plenty of support in the Republican-led Congress. Earlier this year, the House passed two bills that would give FERC and Congress greater authority in getting international and interstate pipelines built, alleviating delays such as those that occurred when the Obama administration hemmed and hawed for years before rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline.
"The regulatory delays are a problem, "said Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, one of the sponsors of the legislation, which is still awaiting a vote in the Senate. "We want to make sure there's some certainty. You're going to get a decision, so you can build or go find another route."
Perry's dueling stands
Pipeline companies, meanwhile, are lobbying Congress to restrict the criteria states can use to deny a project. But they acknowledge their path of success is a narrow one, given states' rights are a key tenet of the modern Republican Party.
But if the Trump administration is any sign, persuading politicians that expanding federal authority on infrastructure is in the nation's interests might not be too hard a sell.Energy Secretary Rick Perry was a passionate defender of states' rights in his frequent fights with the Obama administration while governor of Texas. He even wrote a book on the topic in 2010, "Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington."
"I seem to hear about it about 12 times a day," Brouillette, Perry's deputy, told the National Petroleum Council in September. "He is strong advocate of states' rights and he is very passionate about it. But he is also a very practical man, and he understands he has a different role to play today."