The US Senate approved a national energy plan 74-26 on July 29th. With this vote, the Conference Committee on the energy bill (H.R. 6) issued a report confirming that the reform is now ready for the President’s signature, as the bill cleared the House of Representatives earlier. The President is expected to sign the bill, thus creating “The Energy Policy Act of 2005.” The bill provides a mix of tax breaks, fuels, employment opportunities, cleaner burning coal, and the next generation of nuclear reactors. Some highlights include:
- FERC “shall have exclusive authority to approve or deny an application for the siting, construction, expansion, or operation of an LNG terminal.” States maintain their existing authorities under otherwise applicable environmental laws.
- FERC is the lead agency in reviewing permits for projects required under Section 3 or Section 7 of the Natural Gas Act. The Energy Bill also mandates that FERC has authority to set the schedule for “all Federal authorizations.” The FERC record is also established as the official record for any appeals under the Coastal Zone Management Act, or in court reviews of Federal and state administrative actions related to the proposed project. The Energy Bill also establishes the judicial review process for permitting decisions. It also requires FERC to establish regulations for the pre-filing/public consultation process.
- The Secretary of Interior is to conduct an inventory and analysis of oil and gas resources found in the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf within six months of enactment. The Secretary of Interior must also submit the results of the inventory in a report to Congress, which will include a description of “how legislative, regulatory, and administrative programs or processes restrict or impede the development of identified resources and the extent to which they affect domestic supply, such as moratoria, lease terms and conditions, operational stipulations and requirements, approval delays by the Federal Government and coastal States, and local zoning restrictions for onshore processing facilities and pipeline landings.”
- The Secretary of Commerce will have deadlines for the review of appeals on decisions regarding whether federal activities that affect the coastal zone are consistent with State management programs.
- “Federal Permit Streamlining Pilot Project” – The Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture, the EPA Administrator and Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers are required to enter into an MOU to establish a pilot project within 90 days of enactment. The pilot project will be conducted in Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. Within three years, the Secretary of Interior must report on the “results of the Pilot Project to date” and “whether the Pilot Project should be implemented throughout the U.S.”
- Energy R-O-W Corridors on Federal Land are addressed by agencies in consultation with FERC, the States, tribes and utilities with designated “corridors for oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution facilities on Federal land in eleven western States. The designation requires, within two years, an advance environmental review likely to make the siting of facilities within designated corridors much less challenging. Agencies have four years to designate similar corridors on federal lands in the other 39 states. Agencies are required to expedite applications to construct or modify pipelines within [these] corridors.”
- The Bill calls for Progress Reports on Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline within six months of enactment, and every six months thereafter until the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline begins operating, FERC must report to Congress on “the progress made in licensing and constructing the pipeline, and any issues impeding that progress.”
For more information regarding the “Energy Policy Act of 2005” including text and highlights, visit the Committee on Energy and Commerce on their website.