US Senators to Grill Regulators over Climate Policy on Natural Gas Projects

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Top U.S. senators from both parties will grill Democratic energy regulators who recently approved guidelines for approving new natural gas projects that allow consideration of environmental justice, landowner and climate issues.

The three Democrats on the five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) voted in February to approve the guidelines that analysts say could present hurdles for new gas projects. The two Republicans on the panel opposed the guidelines. 

"@FERC is overstepping its oversight authority on nat gas pipelines & tying our hands behind our back at a critical moment," Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from natural gas producing West Virginia, said in a Twitter post. Manchin heads the Senate Energy Committee, at which all five FERC members are expected to appear during the hearing.

Senator John Barrasso, the top Republican on the committee, has said FERC's ruling was "just the latest attack in (President Joe) Biden's war on American energy."

Biden only nominated one of the current members of FERC, Willie Phillips, a fellow Democrat, and a former chair of Washington, D.C.'s utility commission.

Criticisms from oil, gas and coal interests and lawmakers from fossil fuel producing states about Democratic policies on climate and pipelines have increased as Russia's invasion of Ukraine threatens to cut exports of oil and gas to the world. Russia produces about 10% of the world's crude oil.

An interim guideline FERC approved on Feb. 17 requires environmental impact statements on natural gas projects that emit above 100,000 metric tons per year of greenhouse gases, a process that opponents say can be lengthy and unwieldy.

Richard Glick, a Democrat and the head of FERC, said after the approvals that the guidelines would improve the "legal durability" of the panel's decisions on natural gas projects by ensuring they reflect all stakeholder concerns.

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