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McKinley questions FERC chairman over environmental review standards

David McKinley

CHARLESTON — U.S. Rep. David McKinley was not satisfied Tuesday with answers from the chairman of the federal agency that approves new natural gas pipeline construction over criteria for approvals, including climate change concerns.

The U.S. House of Representative’s Energy and Commerce Subcommittee met Tuesday for a hearing, titled “The Changing Energy Landscape: Oversight of FERC.”

FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, regulates the transmission of electric and natural gas utilities across state lines. Part of that role involves regulating the transportation of oil and natural gas through pipelines.

The agency recently started assessing the potential climate change effects of new pipeline construction. According to E and E News, FERC released an order laying out its new criteria for greenhouse gas reviews. The new rule was first used to assess the climate change effects of Northern Natural Gas Company’s project to build and replace more than 87 miles of pipeline between South Dakota and Nebraska.

“Going forward, we are committed to treating greenhouse gas emissions and their contribution to climate change the same as all other environmental impacts we consider,” said FERC Chairman Rich Glick in a March statement.

“A proposed pipeline’s contribution to climate change is one of its most consequential environmental impacts and we must consider all evidence in the record — both qualitative and quantitative — to assess the significance of that impact,” Glick continued. “I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues as we refine our methods for doing so.”

The final order came about after years of disagreements between FERC commissioners. It’s also unclear what the methodology behind the climate change assessments is. McKinley, West Virginia’s Republican 1st District congressman, questioned Glick about the methodology Tuesday.

“I’m curious. If by taking this unprecedented action, I’m assuming, by extension, you could deny a pipeline to be constructed,” McKinley said. “If that’s true, what level of (carbon dioxide) emissions are going to be acceptable from a natural gas power plant?

“What’s the level? Because you can determine that it makes a significant increase in emissions, so therefore you’re going to deny the pipeline,” McKinley continued. “Everything I’ve read so far, you don’t have a determination. You don’t have metrics on that. What is it that you think would be the appropriate level of CO2 emissions out of a gas-fired power plant that would allow you to approve the pipeline?”

Glick told McKinley that according to a 2017 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, FERC must consider greenhouse emissions impacts of power plants being served by pipelines undergoing a review through the National Environmental Policy Act.

“The D.C. Circuit twice told us that we actually have to assess these easily foreseeable greenhouse gas emissions, so we’re trying to do that,” Glick said. “Obviously, we have disagreements among the commissioners to what level might be significant from my perspective.”

West Virginia has several active natural gas pipeline projects. The 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline will transport natural gas from the northern part of the state to Chatham, Va. The 713-mile Rover Pipeline would transport natural gas through West Virginia and into Ohio and Michigan. The 170-mile Mountaineer Xpress Pipeline will transport natural gas from Northern West Virginia to Southern West Virginia.

Nearly all of these projects have seen setbacks due to legal and regulatory challenges by environmental groups. Actions over the last two years have also caused some concern, such as the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in 2020 and the rescinding of permits under President Joe Biden of the Keystone Pipeline.

McKinley also said other countries, such as India and China, might see FERC’s actions as a reason to continue using coal-fired power plants instead of switching to cleaner-burning natural gas power plants.

“By virtue of us stopping gas pipelines in America … How are we going to teach India and China? Are we really going to tell them they have to shut off their gas pipelines too? This seems like more a bureaucratic issue,” McKinley said.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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