Congress Questions Delay of Natural Gas Pipelines

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THE energy-dependent Northeast is looking to natural gas to help ease its reliance on imported oil, and the apparent slow pace of of a little known federal agency that must approve construction of interstate gas pipelines is drawing criticism in Congress.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) currently has a backlog of about 20 projects, which industry officials estimate could help the country ultimately reduce its dependence on oil by 750,000 barrels per day, or about one-tenth of current imports.

Despite recent assurances from the Department of Energy (DOE) and FERC that they are taking steps to expedite decisions on natural gas pipelines and transportation restrictions in response to the Iraqi crisis, the two agencies are becoming the focus of congressional impatience over the backlog.

Rep. Philip Sharp (D) of Indiana, chairman of the House Energy and Power Subcommittee, has scheduled a hearing for today in which he and other representatives - particularly from the Northeast - are expected to send a strong message to DOE and FERC to expedite decisions on these proposals. `Unacceptable' oil-dependence

A foreshadowing of that criticism came in an Aug. 6 letter from Mr. Sharp to FERC Chairman Martin Allday regarding the commission's decision to further delay construction of the Iroquois Pipeline, which would bring Canadian gas to the Northeast. The Iraqi showdown is a reminder, the letter said, "that our nation is growing ever more dependent on oil imports, and that the Persian Gulf remains a volatile, treacherous and unpredictable place. Your decision helps maintain the Northeast's unacceptable dependence on imported oil."

Additionally, on Aug. 15 four congressmen from the Northeast, Reps. …