Why Take Action at FERC?
[Ted Glick, who wrote this article, is a co-founder and member of the steering committees of Beyond Extreme Energy and of IMAC -- Interfaith Moral Action on Climate. In the '70s he was an antiwar organizer, spending 11 months in prison as a draft resister. Beginning in 2003, he turned his energies to preventing climate chaos. He has been arrested nineteen times for acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, including six times on climate issues between October 2006 and April 2011, His spiritual roots are in the Church of the Brethren. His website is at <https://tedglick.com> -- AW, ed.]
By Ted Glick
Over the last several years a new, growing and increasingly connected grassroots-based movement has emerged onto the national scene. This is the movement in opposition to the expansion of oil and gas pipelines and new fossil fuel infrastructure.(This photo comes from the crucial resistance at Standing Rock.)
This movement includes landowners whose land is in the crosshairs of oil, gas and pipeline companies looking to put new pipelines on their land. It includes people who are deeply concerned about the heating up of the earth, leading to climate disruption, and who understand that the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause. It includes Indigenous peoples whose land, water, sacred burial grounds and sovereignty rights are at risk from these companies. And it includes progressive-minded people who appreciate the unjust and harmful impacts of the rush to build out new fossil fuel infrastructure.
Beyond Extreme Energy, since its founding in the summer of 2014, has been deeply involved with and an important part of this movement.
The primary focus of BXE's work has been to expose and put pressure on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a little-known but very powerful federal regulatory agency in Washington, DC. FERC’s primary responsibility is to regulate the US electrical grid, but it also is tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the permitting of interstate fracked-gas and conventional gas pipelines, infrastructure and export terminals.
Although it was established by Congress and its commissioners are appointed by the President, FERC's $300 million budget relies entirely on industry fees. Furthermore, many of its 1,500 employees have strong personal ties to the energy industry. People move readily through the revolving door that connects FERC to the industry, working first for FERC and then the industry, or vice-versa. All of this has turned FERC into industry’s rubber stamp, as the agency approves virtually every permit that crosses its desk. Research indicates that there have been only two pipeline permits turned down out of approximately 500 applied for over the last 30 years.
Although FERC refuses to listen to concerns from communities threatened by gas infrastructure, the agency provides free multiday workshops for the industry on how best, in essence, to overcome community opposition. With each permit, FERC demonstrates that it is the easily manipulated enabler for projects that are upending communities all over the country. Left unchecked, this agency, captured by industry, will usher in an all-out switch not to clean energy but to decades of climate-disrupting fracked gas.
Nine-Point FERC Reform Plan
The following nine-point plan for FERC reform has been put together by groups actively resisting the fossil fuel infrastructure buildout and which are working together within a network called VOICES. The nine points delineate more specifically the major problems with the way FERC operates and what needs to be done to change it. It was put together in response to a FERC announcement that it is going to review the way it which it makes decisions about pipeline permit applications and has been endorsed by about 150 organizations.
1) It is Time that FERC Implement a Pipeline Review Process that Prioritizes the Public Interest Over the Goals of the Pipeline Industry. This Means Giving Proper Priority (i.e. Highest Priority) to People, the Environment, Protection Against Climate Changing Emissions and Protection of Future Generations in Both the FERC Review and Decision-making.
2) Review and Reform of FERC’s Pipeline Review Process Must Begin with a Series of No Less than Six Public Hearings Held in Affected Communities, and 90 Days for Written Comment, So FERC Can Learn How the Current Process Is Failing and the Public Interest Reforms that Are Needed.
3) FERC Must Mandate a Legitimate Demonstration of “Need” for a Proposed Pipeline/Infrastructure Project that is Verified by Unbiased Experts, Is Not Comprised of Contracts to Supply Gas to the Pipeline Company Itself or Any of Its Business Counterparts, and Is Not/Cannot be Supplied by Renewable or Existing Energy Sources.
4) There Must Be a Prohibition on FERC Issuing (a) Certificates of Public Convenience or Necessity, (b) Notices to Proceed with Any Aspect of Construction, Including Tree Felling, and/or (c) Approval for Exercise of Eminent Domain, Until Such Time as an Infrastructure Project Has Secured All State, Federal and/or Regional Permits, Dockets and/or Approvals. This Includes a Prohibition on Conditional FERC Certificates.
5) FERC Must End Its Strategic Practice of Failing to Affirmatively Grant or Deny Legally Required Rehearing Requests (Administrative Appeals of FERC Decisions), Instead Issuing Responses that Provide FERC More Time for Consideration (i.e. a Tolling Order). FERC Never Rules in Favor of Those Appealing, and the Result is to Prevent Pipeline Challengers from Bringing a Legal Challenge in the Courts while FERC Grants the Pipeline Company the Power of Eminent Domain and Approval for Construction. Groups Have Had to Wait Over a Year Before They Are Able to Go to Court While Construction Takes Place.
6) FERC Must Prohibit the Practice of Hiring Third-Party Consultants to Assist in the FERC Review Process who Have Any Business Contracts (Past, Present or Future) with a Pipeline Company Seeking FERC Approval, and Must Prohibit FERC Commissioners or FERC Staff from Working on or Deciding upon Any Pipeline or Infrastructure Project in which They or a Family Member Have a Direct or Indirect Financial or Employment Interest.
7) FERC Must End the Practice of Using Segmentation, Allowing Pipeline Companies to Break Up Projects into Smaller Segments, in Order to Undermine a Full and Accurate Review of Community and Environmental Impacts.
8) FERC Must Commit to a Full and Fair Implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act, Including Full and Fair Evaluation of Climate Change Impacts; Induced Fracking/Drilling Operations; Costs of Construction, Operation and Maintenance (not Just Benefits); Health and Safety Impacts; the Full Array of Community, Business and Environmental Impacts that Will Result; and that All Inaccurate, Missing, False or Misleading Data and/or Information Identified by FERC and/or Public Commenters Are Fully, Completely and Accurately Addressed.
9) FERC Must End the Practice of Allowing Pipeline Companies to Secure a 14% Rate of Return on Equity on All New Pipeline Projects In Order to Ensure the Public Does Not Bear the Burden of Flawed Projects and to Ensure that FERC Does not Incentivize Inappropriate and/or Unwarranted Pipeline/Infrastructure Construction.
The growing movement demanding an end to FERC’s pro-industry bias is a critical component of the overall movement for justice and for effective action to stop global heating. FERC must not continue to rubber-stamp gas pipeline and infrastructure proposals, and as the federal agency empowered to regulate the US electrical grid, it is essential that a very different FERC, or a replacement for it, be created which has as its number one priority to lead the needed, rapid shift from fossil fuels to renewables.
Those wishing to learn more can go to https://beyondextremeenergy.org. People can also sign up to take part in the June 23-25 actions in DC which will include both participation in the last day of the Poor Peoples Campaign’s 40 days of action on June 23 and, on June 25, action at FERC and a World Gas Conference being held that week in DC.
The Shalom Center is a National Partner of the Poor Peoples Campaign and an endorsing supporter of the BXE actions June 23-25. If you decide to come to Washington for the June 23-25 actions, please also write The Shalom Center at <Pipelines@theshalomcenter.org> with the subject line "June 23" and your name, email, and a phone number.