By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON, May 13 (Reuters) - Maine Governor Paul LePage urged Congress on Wednesday to speed up hydropower and natural gas projects by streamlining rules, saying his state and the U.S. economy needed quicker approval of energy proposals.
LePage told a House energy subcommittee that the soaring price of electricity had cost Maine hundreds of jobs. He also said the state's 1.3 million residents had paid an extra $3 billion to heat and power homes over the last two winters.
Maine needs to develop small dams for power without federal interference and get tied quickly into pipelines feeding natural gas from newly developed fields in Pennsylvania, he said.
"Congress must act to take back our country," said the Republican governor. "We believe that we have the resources to be self-sufficient and can do it in a timely fashion."
The energy panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is weighing bills aimed at speeding up the process for authorizing power-generating dams and natural gas pipelines.
The hydropower licensing process overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is designed to be wrapped up in five years, while those for wind and solar projects can be done in 18 to 24 months, according to the committee.
For natural gas pipelines, FERC lacks the power to force other agencies to meet deadlines for applications, feeding delays in approval, the committee said.
Committee Chairman Edward Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican, said a slow approval process was out of touch with U.S. energy needs, especially with the development of natural gas fields through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
"If there ever was a bipartisan energy source, it certainly is hydropower and natural gas," he said.
LePage said Maine could generate 70 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 7,000 homes for a year, by developing 68 dams that currently do not produce power.
"I don't believe FERC or the federal government should be involved in smaller dams on people's property or in remote parts of the state. They've got bigger fish to fry," he told reporters after the hearing.
The proposed hydropower law would make FERC the sole authority to enforce license requirements. FERC also would be required to minimize duplication of studies during license proceedings.
The natural gas legislation makes FERC the lead agency for siting pipelines. It also requires FERC to identify all the agencies considering an application and set a schedule for review.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Eric Beech)