Several initiatives in Washington, D.C., could impact the midstream industry in 2020, including federal pipeline safety and highway legislation, and new regulations for gathering lines, methane emissions and water permitting. While partisan divisions in Congress and the upcoming presidential election are likely to limit significant progress, particularly in the second half of the year, GPA Midstream Association will be closely monitoring the following midstream-related legislation and regulations in the coming months.

Let’s take a look, starting with legislation.

Since Congress is split with the Democrats controlling the House and the Republicans controlling the Senate, there was more messaging than legislating going on over the course of 2019. Congress will be going into election mode this fall, so the timeline for Congress to realistically pass any legislation is getting shorter by the day.

However, two items that could see movement and impact the midstream industry are pipeline safety reauthorization and the highway bill:

  • Pipeline Safety Reauthorization—Efforts to reauthorize the nation’s pipeline safety laws saw a flurry of activity in 2019. The Senate’s version of the bill is stalled, primarily due to objections over an amendment that would authorize the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to regulate methane emissions, an activity traditionally within the purview of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Having abandoned efforts to develop a bipartisan bill last year, the House is currently pushing an anti industry bill, with provisions that would discard long-standing exemptions for gathering lines, dramatically increase civil penalties and eliminate cost-benefit analyses for rulemaking proceedings. Even though the last pipeline safety reauthorization expired at the end of September 2019, whether Congress can overcome these divisions and finish the bill in 2020 is still a big question.

  • Highway Bill—The Senate’s version of the new highway bill contains a provision for expediting gathering line permits on federal lands to help reduce venting and flaring of natural gas. GPA Midstream strongly supports this provision, but funding concerns have proved a sticking point in past highway bill negotiations. The House is working on its own version of the legislation, so this is an area where we could see bipartisan agreement this year.

Now let’s focus on regulation.

With the upcoming November election cycle, new proposals or regulatory efforts that cannot be completed this year will likely be punted until after the election or into 2021. However, the Trump administration may move forward with higher priority proposals in the coming months. GPA Midstream is focusing on three important rulemaking proceedings:

  • PHMSA Gas Gathering Rules—PHMSA is in the final stages of developing new safety standards and reporting requirements for gas gathering lines. In order to get this finalized this year, the effort needs to make it through PHMSA, the Department of Transportation Secretary’s office, and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. This is a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time.

  • EPA Methane Regulations—EPA’s revised methane regulations are composed of a technical package and a policy/ legal package. These regulations will have a direct impact on the midstream industry. As of late January, there is talk that EPA is close to finalizing these revised regulations. The final rule is expected to still protect the environment and reduce emissions while doing so in a collaborative manner across all stakeholders.

  • EPA Navigable Waters Protection Rule—EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently finalized the new rules for determining the applicability of the Clean Water Act’s permitting requirements. The new final rule is a much more common sense regulation and less restrictive than its predecessor. It makes sure that it protects the environment while ensuring that resources are put in the places where most needed. Time will tell, but there is a lot of work for Congress and the Trump administration to complete before the end of the year in and around an election. I will be providing a thorough review of current midstream legislative and regulatory issues at GPA Midstream’s 2020 convention, set for April 19-22 in New Orleans. I hope you will have the opportunity to join me there.

    Matthew Hite is vice president of government affairs for the GPA Midstream Association.