Back to FERC with new demands

After almost a year without a quorum, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is back to it’s rubber-stamping ways with four new Trump appointees (three of them Republicans).

Since getting their quorum back, FERC has approved new pipelines, and considered several plans to subsidize coal, gas and nuclear over renewable energy. Thankfully, the rejected a ham-handed attempt by Secretary of (oops) Energy Rick Perry to charge ratepayers billions to subsidize the dirtiest energy in our electric grid. But, despite some groups already declaring victory, FERC’s rejection of Sec. Perry’s plan was not a repudiation of the concept — and in fact they are already considering two additional plans that would subsidize coal, nuclear, and fracked gas, one of them from former Mitch mcConnell aide and Acting FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee.

Nor does rejecting one stupid, poorly-formed plan to subsidize fossil fuels undo all the damage FERC has already done. And FERC is clearly not looking to become a kinder, gentler, more open agency as they’re also looking to reduce the power of states like New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina who have been slowing down fossil fuel infrastructure (but not stopping it) by refusing to grant local air and water quality permits.

Stop FERCIn the midst of all this bad momentum, FERC’s brand new Chairman is saying he wants to review the process of considering applications for gas pipelines. Nobody knows exactly where he’s going with this plan, but we know we can’t trust any of Trump’s hand-picked commissioners. So we’re going back to FERC to announce a 7-point plan for how FERC can put people and the planet first, and we want YOU to sign on.

FERC’s pipeline review protocols were last updated in a 1999 Pipeline Policy Statement  — well before the fracking boom. And while we don’t trust FERC to listen to the public or experts on climate, pollution, land rights, and other issues that should be central to this process, their review gives us an opportunity to define what a functioning Federal Energy Regulator could look like.

With that in mind, we’re putting our 7-point plan out there early, and also calling on FERC to hold no less than six public hearings held in affected communities across the nation, as well as engaging in a robust and truly public comment period (not their usual sham). Click here to sign on to the list of demands below.

Minimal reforms to the FERC process must include:

  1. FERC must mandate a genuine demonstration of an end-use need for a project that is objectively verified by experts and that cannot be fulfilled by renewable energy options.
  2. FERC must respect state and local authority and expertise by deferring to state and local environmental authorities’ findings regarding the environmental, community, and economic impacts of pipelines.
  3. FERC must respect the authority of other state and federal agencies by instituting a policy that prevents FERC from approving pipeline infrastructure and/or allowing any element of construction to proceed until all state and federal reviews/permit processes have been finalized and approvals/permits granted.
  4. FERC must end the use of tolling orders, which place people in legal limbo and prevent communities from accessing justice before a pipeline company exercises the power of eminent domain to take property rights and inflicts irreparable harm through significant stages of construction. If tolling orders are not prohibited, then other mechanisms for addressing the problem include:
    1. Prohibit pipeline projects from advancing in any way, shape, or form, including eminent domain and/or construction, if there is an outstanding rehearing request/tolling order; or
    2. Mandate FERC response to rehearing requests within 30 days and prohibit projects from advancing in any way, shape, or form during that period.
  5. FERC must commit to removing bias from the process, by no longer hiring consultants with demonstrated conflicts of interest (i.e., those who are representing a pipeline company seeking Commission approval), and by prohibiting Commission staff or Commissioners from working on/deciding upon any pipeline infrastructure project in which they have a direct or indirect financial stake or have worked to represent the company within the previous 5 years.
  6. FERC must end the practice of using segmentation to skew environmental and community impact reviews.
  7. FERC must commit to a complete analysis of the costs and benefits, with a full and fair implementation of NEPA, including, but not limited to, fully evaluating social justice impacts; climate change impacts of pipeline construction and operation; community, environment, and climate change impacts of increased natural gas exploration, fracking, and methane emissions resulting from pipeline infrastructure operations; economic analyses that include costs, not just asserted benefits; alternatives not limited to alternate routes but that also include alternative energy sources; and robust health-and-safety impact analyses.

After presenting our plan, we’ll “nail” copies to FERC’s front door to make sure they can’t ignore our demands — will you sign on before Thursday?

PS – If you’re in the DC area or can get there, please join us at FERC on the morning of January 18 for a rally and peaceful protest involving the delivery of these seven demands and all your signatures.

Gas Pipeline image from National Parks Conservation Association