Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Kevin McIntyre told state utility commissioners Tuesday that he is bothered by the “rubber stamp” label given to the commission by critics and is seeking changes to the panel’s pipeline review system.
“One phrase that bothers me at my tenure at FERC is the term 'rubber stamp,'" McIntyre said at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ Winter Policy Summit. “It fails to recognize the excellent work done by the commission and staff over many, many years to ensure adequate and careful review of pipeline projects.”
FERC announced in December it would take a “fresh look” at the way it approves natural gas pipelines amid growing clashes between environmental groups and the agency over climate change.
The commission will examine its 1999 policy statement on how it issues permits for new interstate natural gas pipelines.
One of the critical groups, “Beyond Extreme Energy,” which calls for “no new permits for fossil fuel infrastructure,” even refers to its protests against FERC’s pipeline approvals as a “rubber stamp rebellion.”
McIntyre, a Republican appointed by Trump, did not provide a timeline for FERC’s pipeline review, but said there is “no argument about whether we need additional energy infrastructure at some level and in some areas."
"Adequate infrastructure is needed not just for our grid and pipeline system, but for our consumers,” he said.
Pipeline and power-sector lobbyists have advocated for enhancements of the country’s pipeline network to carry natural gas, and emphasize the need for more pipeline capacity to bring Permian Basin gas to market.
Industry officials are frustrated with states such as New York that have resisted approvals of pipeline projects, even as FERC gives its blessing, by using a section of the Clean Water Act to deny permits.
McIntyre, in his appearance before state utility officials, also urged regional grid operators to not get “hung up” on the concept of “bailouts” as they review the reliability and resilience of their markets.
FERC rejected Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposal to subsidize struggling coal and nuclear plants, but issued an order requiring grid operators to study whether their markets have reliability and resilience problems as the power system transitions to using more natural gas and renewables.
McIntyre says Perry’s order was misunderstood but vowed any proposed solutions will maintain “robust, competitive markets.”
He defended Perry for proposing the controversial measure, saying he was right to highlight the “long-term resilience” of the power grid.
"Who can argue with that was a completely valid concern?” McIntyre said. “It was a completely valid concern."
The FERC chairman said the commission, which is independent, and the Energy Department have a “strong and robust” relationship.