Despite veto threats from the Obama Administration, H.R. 3301, the “North American Energy Infrastructure Act”, passed in the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 238 to 173 on June 24, 2014. The purpose of the bill (subject of a prior post) is to eliminate the Presidential permitting process for cross-border pipelines and electric transmission facilities. For oil pipelines and electric transmission lines, the bill would only require a “certificate of crossing” for the construction, connection, operation or maintenance of the cross-border segment of a proposed project. The certificate would be issued by the State Department (for oil pipelines) or by the Department of Energy (for electric transmission lines). These Departments would be required to issue certificates of crossing within 120 days of completion of review of the proposed “cross-border segment” under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), unless they find that the project is not in the national public interest. For natural gas pipeline projects, a certificate of crossing would not be required, as the bill leaves in place the current authorization process of the Natural Gas Act, under which FERC approves siting, construction or operation of natural gas pipeline facilities, and the import or export of natural gas. The bill would, however, eliminate the Presidential Permit requirement for natural gas pipeline projects.
The bill narrows the scope of the approval process (and, accordingly, NEPA environmental review) to just the “cross-border segment” of an oil pipeline or electric transmission project, defined in the bill as only that portion of the project “located at the national boundary of the United States with either Canada or Mexico.” H.R. 3301, Sec. 9(1). (For further discussion of the appropriate scope of approval for cross-border pipeline projects, as well as background on Presidential permitting, click here) According to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Report on the bill, this narrower scope is in keeping with FERC procedures for reviewing natural gas pipeline projects, which identify a cross-border segment as “the segment spanning from the international boundary to a physical feature within close proximity, such as a valve or meter.”
Despite bipartisan support for the bill in the House of Representatives, it faces an uncertain future in the Senate, and veto by the President is all but certain. The Obama Administration issued a statement of policy the day of the bill’s passage, stating that it “strongly opposes” the measure. The Administration took issue with the 120-day approval requirement in the bill, stating that such a requirement would circumvent the “longstanding and proven” processes for reviewing cross-border projects and determining whether they are in the national interest by removing the Presidential permitting requirement.
The bill may be tracked here as it moves through the legislative process.