The U.S. natural gas pipeline industry will confront a litany of regulatory and legislative challenges under the Biden administration, including more hurdles for pipeline certification, a trade group executive said.
“Overall, the speed and volume of proposed regulatory actions impacting our industry, all moving forward simultaneously, have almost been overwhelming as we face these different things,” said Tony Straquadine, executive director of the INGAA Foundation, the research arm of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. Straquadine was referring to actions that began with early executive orders from U.S. President Joe Biden.
Straquadine said concerns in Congress include legislation that would contain a fee on methane emissions and a clean electricity performance program. The executive interpreted the latter as excluding gas-fired generation if it lacks carbon capture technology.
Straquadine’s Sept. 13 presentation at the LDC Gas Forum’s Mid-Continent Forum, which he described as his opinion rather than the official position of his organization, also had positive points. Straquadine highlighted the industry’s record of adapting to change and its potential opportunities in the energy transition. The opportunities included transporting nontraditional fuels such as hydrogen and backing up renewable energy sources as well as continuing to support grid stability and resilience.
But a large part of the presentation described threats to the industry. These included changes in the makeup of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that could affect the pipeline certification process, a departure from Trump administration’s efforts to streamline National Environmental Policy Act regulations and the regulatory unknowns surrounding greater consideration of environmental justice in government decision-making. Other regulatory “threats” Straquadine listed included a turnback from Trump administration work on the Clean Water Act water quality certifications, potential battles over U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water crossing permits, and recommendations from the Office of Management and Budget expected in September on the use of the social cost of carbon to estimate the climate impact of natural gas industry activities, among others.
At FERC, the addition of another Democrat, if confirmed, will provide Democratic Chairman Richard Glick with the “ability to weave more ambitious climate, renewable and environmental justice efforts into the regulators’ purview,” Straquadine said. Biden plans to nominate the District of Columbia Public Service Commission Chairman Willie Phillips to become the fifth commissioner, the White House announced Sept. 9.
As FERC weighs changes to its 1999 natural pipeline certificate policy statement, a “big concern” is potential changes to how environmental justice will be considered beyond the current approach to mitigating impacts, Straquadine said. “If there is a change, we have to adapt,” Straquadine said. “Does it become more onerous, more difficult, more challenging? The answer will probably be yes.”