Revisiting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision (FERC): A Mothers Plea

BLOCKADIA - THE BEYOND EXTREME ENERGY ACTION in Washngton DC

Blockadia- The Beyond Extreme Energy Action in Washington DC. Photo via Erik McGregor.

We are honored to share this article written by Harriet Shugarman, Executive Director of Climate Mama and honored WECAN U.S Women’s Climate Justice Initiative Steering Committee Member, and Linda Reik, scientist, mother, and New York resident. 

We are your mothers and your sisters. We are your neighbors, your co-workers and your friends. At different times in our lives we have been called farm worker, engineer, professor, economist, scientist, daughter, and mommy. What we have never been called, until now is: pipeline and fossil fuel infrastructure expert, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authority, activist or terrorist.
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Blockadia- The Beyond Extreme Energy Action in Washington DC. May 2015. Photo via Harriet Shugarman.

These are new names for us, as we work to understand what is happening in our communities. We are listening closely as we hear repeated accounts about children who are ill, crops that are failing, tainted water, farm animals whose progeny die young, incessant noise, dust and smells in the air, and declining property values which threaten our ability to insure our homes and businesses.We have begun to think of creative ways to have our voices heard, as we try to raise the alarm that few citizens and even fewer elected officials are listening to. We are now discovering that our actions have been noticed, but rather than working with us to drill down on the facts, they have caused some government bodies to label us as possible “terroristic threats.” (See end of document for links)

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Blockadia- The Beyond Extreme Energy Action in Washington DC. May 2015. Photo via Harriet Shugarman

By necessity we have come to know the ins and outs of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the names of pipelines and their routes, where they connect, if they are attached to a compressor station, if they are headed for an LNG export facility, what bodies of water they are going to cross under, and more often than not, we also know their FERC projects docket numbers.

We are watching as FERC has been thrust into a hugely important role of overseeing the expansion of our country’s natural gas extraction. According to the FERC website there is no review of FERC decisions by the President or Congress, maintaining FERC’s independence as a regulatory agency, and providing for “fair and unbiased decisions.” In addition, the website states: “the Commission is funded through costs recovered by the fees and annual charges from the industries it regulates.”

This last sentence bears serious consideration. FERC’s annual budget, which was over $304 million in 2014, is 100% dependent on the fees and charges it assesses to the industry it regulates. FERC regularly holds educational seminars and events with industry allowing for easy access to FERC commissioners and staff. Yet, as public citizens, it is very difficult, if not impossible for us to meet with FERC officials and speak at FERC meetings.

To be sure, FERC currently has the authority and wide latitude to interpret the rules under which the Commission was established. In August 2014, Cheryl LaFluer, then FERC Acting Chair, and now FERC Commissioner, more clearly defined this role: “What we have said is that we believe under [the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA] that we look at the direct project impacts, we do not do a cradle-to-grave, molecule-by-molecule analysis of where a fuel is coming from, what’s going to happen at the end of the ship when it goes off to the other side of the Earth and what other fuel it displaces.” Continuing,LaFleur said: “We don’t believe that’s in our authority or in our role under NEPA.”

LaFleur was also quoted at a National Press Club event on January 27th saying: “I believe meeting the goals of the Administration’s Clean Power Plan will also lead to construction of a lot of new natural gas generation.”

So, here too, we are watching with disappointment and concern as the Clean Power Plan, set up to lower our country’s heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions and to act on climate change, has as one of it’s four established pillars anchoring the President’s climate plan – shale gas, a fossil fuel. Natural gas – a fossil fuel that the world’s climate scientists have told us must stay in the ground if we are to have hope for a livable future – is instead being promoted as a viable climate “solution.”

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Blockadia- The Beyond Extreme Energy Action in Washington DC. May 2015. Photo via Harriet Shugarman.

Federal rules allow for the dramatic expansion of shale gas production in our country, and gut previous rules for reporting and protecting us from toxic chemicals; effectively exempting the gas and oil industry from regulations that all other industries must adhere too. As long as industry complies with the rules, the bigger picture – our health, clean water, clean air, our security and our future, doesn’t count. The mandate and reach of FERC must be revisited and revised by Congress. We must connect the dots at all levels and jump into the future now, there is no bridge, there is only a cliff. There is no Planet B.

This wasn’t part of our plans when we put down roots in our communities and birthed our children. But this is where we find ourselves now; experts on technical topics we never imagined as we work feverishly to sound the alarm. Our children are watching.

Sources:

Blog by Harriet Shugarman and Linda Reik

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