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Public Statements

Providing for Consideration of H.R. 1900, Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak about the rule governing debate on this bill, H.R. 1900, the ``Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Act.''

Mr. Speaker, as I stated yesterday when we debated the other energy bills, I am not anti-energy exploration. I am not pro--or anti-fracking. I am, however strongly ``pro-jobs,'' ``pro-economic growth,'' and ``pro-sustainable environment.''

As a Member of Congress from Houston I have always been mindful of the importance of, and have strongly advocated for, national energy policies that will make our nation energy independent, preserve and create jobs, and keep our nation's economy strong.

That is why I carefully consider each energy legislative proposal brought to the floor on its individual merits and support them when they are sound, balanced, fair, and promote the national interest.

Where they fall short, I believe in working across the aisle to improve them if possible by offering constructive amendments.

Although I believe the nation would benefit by increased pipeline capacity to transport our abundant supplies of natural gas, the legislation before contains several provisions that are of great concern to me.

Pursuant to Section 2, paragraph (4) of the bill, a permit or license for a natural gas pipeline project is ``deemed'' approved if the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) or other federal agencies do not issue the permit or license within 90-120 days.

I have three concerns with this regulatory scheme.

First, as a senior member of the Committee on the Judiciary, I have a problem with ``deeming'' something done that has not been done in fact.

Thus, the provision is unwise.

Second, this provision is a remedy in search of a problem. There is no lengthy or intolerable backlog of neglected natural gas pipeline projects awaiting action by FERC.

The provision is unnecessary because FERC has, since fiscal year 2009, completed action on 92 percent (504 out of 548) of all pipeline applications that it has received within one year of receipt. And the remaining 8% of decisions that have taken longer than one year involve complex proposals that merit additional review and consideration.

Third, the provision is irresponsible because would require FERC to and other agencies to make decisions based on incomplete information or information that may not be available within the stringent deadlines, and to deny applications that otherwise would have been approved, but for lack of sufficient review time.

Compounding the problem is that the fact that FERC like virtually every federal agency is operating under the onerous and draconian provisions of the disastrous sequestration which has caused so much misery and disruption across the nation and to our economy.

FERC, for example, with a budget of $306 million faces a $15 million reduction in spending authority this fiscal year, according to OMB. That sum amounts to 5% of FERC's budget.

So the likely impact of this bill if passed is to put FERC in the position of having to work faster to issue decisions with fewer experienced employees and a reduction in resources.

Given the inherent dangers involved in the construction and operation of a natural gas pipeline, does anyone doubt that this state of affairs is likely to lead to FERC to err on the side of caution and deny applications that may otherwise been approved if it had more time and more resources to carry out its responsibilities?

Mr. Speaker, we should not take that chance. That is why I offered an amendment, which the Rules Committee made in order, to suspend the effectiveness of this legislation so long as sequestration is in effect. I urge all Members to support the Jackson Lee Amendment when it comes to the floor later this week.

The material previously referred to by Mr. McGovern is as follows:

An Amendment to H. Res. 420 Offered by Mr. McGovern of Massachusetts

At the end of the resolution, add the following new section:

Sec. 4. Immediately upon adoption of this resolution, the House shall proceed to the consideration of the resolution (H. Res. 424) prohibiting the consideration of a concurrent resolution providing for adjournment unless the House has adopted a conference report on the budget resolution by December 13, 2013, if called up by Representative Slaughter of New York or her designee. All points of order against the resolution and against its consideration are waived.

THE VOTE ON THE PREVIOUS QUESTION: WHAT IT REALLY MEANS

This vote, the vote on whether to order the previous question on a special rule, is not merely a procedural vote. A vote against ordering the previous question is a vote against the Republican majority agenda and a vote to allow the Democratic minority to offer an alternative plan. It is a vote about what the House should be debating.

Mr. Clarence Cannon's Precedents of the House of Representatives (VI, 308-311), describes the vote on the previous question on the rule as ``a motion to direct or control the consideration of the subject before the House being made by the Member in charge.'' To defeat the previous question is to give the opposition a chance to decide the subject before the House. Cannon cites the Speaker's ruling of January 13, 1920, to the effect that ``the refusal of the House to sustain the demand for the previous question passes the control of the resolution to the opposition'' in order to offer an amendment. On March 15, 1909, a member of the majority party offered a rule resolution. The House defeated the previous question and a member of the opposition rose to a parliamentary inquiry, asking who was entitled to recognition. Speaker Joseph G. Cannon (R-Illinois) said: ``The previous question having been refused, the gentleman from New York, Mr. Fitzgerald, who had asked the gentleman to yield to him for an amendment, is entitled to the first recognition.''

The Republican majority may say ``the vote on the previous question is simply a vote on whether to proceed to an immediate vote on adopting the resolution [and] has no substantive legislative or policy implications whatsoever.'' But that is not what they have always said. Listen to the Republican Leadership Manual on the Legislative Process in the United States House of Representatives, (6th edition, page 135). Here's how the Republicans describe the previous question vote in their own manual: ``Although it is generally not possible to amend the rule because the majority Member controlling the time will not yield for the purpose of offering an amendment, the same result may be achieved by voting down the previous question on the rule ..... When the motion for the previous question is defeated, control of the time passes to the Member who led the opposition to ordering the previous question. That Member, because he then controls the time, may offer an amendment to the rule, or yield for the purpose of amendment.''

In Deschler's Procedure in the U.S. House of Representatives, the subchapter titled ``Amending Special Rules'' states: ``a refusal to order the previous question on such a rule [a special rule reported from the Committee on Rules] opens the resolution to amendment and further debate.'' (Chapter 21, section 21.2) Section 21.3 continues: ``Upon rejection of the motion for the previous question on a resolution reported from the Committee on Rules, control shifts to the Member leading the opposition to the previous question, who may offer a proper amendment or motion and who controls the time for debate thereon.''

Clearly, the vote on the previous question on a rule does have substantive policy implications. It is one of the only available tools for those who oppose the Republican majority's agenda and allows those with alternative views the opportunity to offer an alternative plan.

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