On October 22, 2013, House Representatives Upton (R-MI) and Green (D-TX) introduced the North American Energy Infrastructure Act, H.R. 3301. The bill is intended to streamline the permitting process for cross-border pipelines and electric transmission facilities by eliminating the Presidential permitting process, requiring that all requests for approval of cross-border oil pipelines be administered directly by the Secretary of Commerce and all requests for natural gas pipeline crossings be administered directly by FERC. The bill provides that requests “must be approved” within 120 days of being submitted, unless the request is found not to be in the national security interests. Notably, approvals issued under the Act would not constitute major federal action for purposes of NEPA.
The House Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing on the bill on October 29, 2013. Among the highlights of the hearing was testimony from a FERC representative taking issue with language in the bill that could be read to eliminate FERC’s role in approving the construction of border facilities – namely that the Commission “must” approve projects within 120 days where national security concerns are not present – by eliminating the Commission’s ability to construct a record, invite public participation, and conduct a thorough analysis of the project’s impact. An industry attorney testified in support of the bill, emphasizing the need to streamline the permit process, especially for those projects with minimal policy or practical impact on society, and cited as examples several name change permits (which involve no operational changes) that have been pending before the State Department for over five years.
The bill reportedly has strong support, and has been referred to the House Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, and is expected to then proceed to the Energy & Commerce for further markup before presentation to the House for a vote.