The House voted Wednesday to give the nation's top energy regulator broader powers to approve natural gas pipelines, while also giving it primary authority over oil and gas pipelines that cross international borders such as Keystone XL.
House lawmakers voted 248-179 to approve a bill introduced by Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, to give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission lead authority over the approval of interstate natural gas pipelines. The bill seeks to streamline the permitting process, which can involve several approvals from multiple agencies, by centralizing the permitting process within FERC.
The House also voted 254-175 to pass a cross-border energy bill introduced by Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., which would make FERC the principal agency responsible for permitting all pipelines and electric transmission cables that cross the U.S. border with Canada or Mexico.
The bill would strip the State Department of its authority over such cross-border projects, which the Obama administration used to hold up the Keystone XL pipeline for nearly a decade before former President Barack Obama denied its permit in November 2015. The cross-border bill also removes the president's power to disapprove such projects by giving ultimate authority to FERC.
But the Senate has not voted to approve President Trump's FERC nominees to restore the agency's quorum. The commission has been effectively shut down since February because it lacks at least three members required to make decisions regarding the electric grid, natural gas pipeline development and the siting of energy export terminals.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he has no guidance on when two of Trump's FERC nominees, Neil Chatterjee and Rob Powelson, will be voted on by the full Senate.
If the Senate does not vote on the energy nominees before lawmakers recess next month, it may mean that FERC will remains without a quorum until the fall.
Acting FERC Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur is the commission's lone member. Earlier this week, she tweeted a picture of volleyball that she named Commissioner Spaulding. She was referring to "Wilson" in the 2000 drama "Cast Away," in which Tom Hanks' only friend was a Wilson-branded volleyball on a deserted island.