- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2022

Republicans and natural gas groups have a Democratic ally when it comes to opposing an overhaul of how natural gas projects are approved: Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

The Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) implemented guidance Thursday for the new approval process, which includes the creation of a climate change threshold that caps the amount of pollution that projects would be allowed to produce and consideration of other environmental impacts.

These changes to the approval process are the first of their kind in more than 20 years, the independent agency said, which oversees the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas and oil.

Mr. Manchin, a centrist Democrat who represents a state that is one of the country’s largest natural gas producers, was none too pleased. He described FERC’s new guidance that weighs heavily on energy projects’ environmental impacts as “reckless” and said it would put “the security of our nation at risk.”

“The Commission went too far by prioritizing a political agenda over their main mission — ensuring our nation’s energy reliability and security,” Mr. Manchin said in a statement. “The only thing they accomplished today was constructing additional roadblocks that further delay building out the energy infrastructure our country desperately needs. Energy independence is our greatest geopolitical and economic tool and we cannot lose sight of that as instability rises around the globe.”

Mr. Manchin, who chairs the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, echoed the sentiment among Republicans and industry groups. They argue that FERC’s stricter rules for new natural gas projects will curtail America’s energy supply, thus further driving up costs with greater demand and jeopardizing national security.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on Energy and Natural Resources Committee, decried the new guidelines as “just the latest attack in Biden’s war on American energy.” 

FERC’s three Democratic members approved the policy changes, one of whom was appointed by President Biden. The commission’s two Republican members opposed them.

“President Biden is trumpeting the importance of infrastructure at the same time his appointees are working to kill energy infrastructure,” Mr. Barrasso said in a statement. “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is determined to make it nearly impossible for Americans to maintain or improve access to abundant and affordable supplies of natural gas.”

Similarly, industry groups like the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America suggested FERC was overstepping its authority and that the new policies would “add additional uncertainty to the already complex natural gas pipeline permitting process.”

FERC will start undertaking a “robust consideration” of the impacts that proposed projects would have on landowners, environmental justice communities, jobs, tax revenue and whether they would integrate renewable energy sources.

With Mr. Biden’s climate and social spending package known as Build Back Better all but dead, FERC plays a key role in helping to advance some of the president’s clean-energy goals. Racial climate justice was a major pillar of the initiatives included in Build Back Better and one that Democrats in Congress have now pivoted to focus on. FERC, thanks to its new guidance, will pick up the mantle.

Democrats and environmental advocates lauded FERC’s new policies, which they said are needed to prevent further harm to the environment and communities from natural gas pipelines and projects.

FERC Chairman Richard Glick, one of the agency’s three Democrats, said their changes to the approval process for these large energy projects were made to protect the environment, individuals and groups that have been negatively impacted by similar projects in the past.

“We have witnessed the impact on pipeline projects when federal agencies, including the Commission, fail to fulfill their statutory responsibilities assessing the potential effects of a project on the environment, landowners and communities,” Mr. Glick said in a statement.

• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at rtouchberry@washingtontimes.com.

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