Amidst the deep pain, fear and anger worldwide at Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, there was a ray of hope from a very unlikely source yesterday: Joe Manchin’s mouth. During an inquisition—officially a “hearing”—of Manchin’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in the heat of a back-and-forth between him/the Republicans and the three Democrats who make up a majority of the five-person FERC commissioners leadership group, Manchin said, at one point: “you are wearing people out,” in a clear reference to Manchin’s people, the coal, oil and gas CEO’s and those on their boards of directors.
Manchin made other similar comments: “There’s a policy by some of death by a thousand cuts on the fossil fuel industry;” and “I know these people, they’re not going to invest, they’re going to walk away.” Republican Senator Mike Lee said, “It’s a radical climate agenda. Maybe we’re better off without FERC. Maybe we should eliminate it.” Republican FERC commissioner Mark Christie said, “This is the latest example of delaying and adding costs to pipeline applications. There’s a national campaign against all fossil fuel facilities. This gives that campaign an added weapon.” And then there’s Republican commissioner James Danly: “Uncertainty drives up risk premiums for companies. This destroys a village to save it. They are discussing in boardrooms what to do about these projects.”
What occasioned this hearing, this Manchin/Republican anger, this and other statements yesterday revealing that the climate/climate justice/progressive movement is having a definite impact on the fossil fuel industry?
Two weeks ago, at a regular monthly meeting of FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, following over a year of publicly accepting comments, a new policy was adopted to guide decision-making when a methane gas pipeline company applies for a permit for an interstate gas pipeline and/or related infrastructure, like compressor stations, export terminals or storage terminals. For 23 years, since 1999, the FERC policy has been to interpret the “public interest,” which FERC is by law supposed to be serving, as the “corporate interest.” Whatever the pipeline and gas industry wants, they get. The statistics tell the story: over 99% of applications for permits have been granted over that time.
Note that this has happened over these 23 years regardless of which party has been in the majority at FERC. Things are different now, though, very much because of the political strength of the people’s movement demanding environmental justice and an urgent shift from fossil fuels to wind, solar and other genuinely clean renewables. That movement has had an impact on the Democratic Party such that the three Dems now in the majority, Richard Glick (no relation), Allison Clements and Willie Phillips, are doing things differently.
What is the “radical” new policy that the “gang of three,” in Manchin/the Republicans’ eyes, have adopted? It’s not really that radical. Instead of a pipeline company having a contract with a gas supplier being the basis for a positive response to their permit application, the new policy officially includes an assessment of the proposed project’s impact on local landowners and communities, particularly environmental justice/low-income/people of color communities, the environment generally and the climate crisis specifically. That’s it.
The adoption of this policy is a victory, but there’s no guarantee that it’s going to lead to the denial of most of the new gas industry permit applications, even though the International Energy Agency last year called for exactly this to be the policy starting last year on the part of the world’s advanced industrial economies: no new fossil fuel projects. Given the pressures from the fossil fuelers, the rightwing media echo chamber, Manchin/the Republicans and some other gas-friendly Democrats, and now the use of Putin’s Ukraine war as a justification for expanding the gas industry to substitute US fracked gas for Russian gas, it is entirely possible that there will still be a fair number of approvals of new gas infrastructure.
There is a continuing need for watchdogging and keeping the heat on FERC, a task which the organization Beyond Extreme Energy, working with other groups, has been doing for almost eight years. BXE and other groups will continue to advocate for a replacement of FERC with FREC, a Federal Renewable Energy Commission which does many of the things FERC does but with conscious, Congressionally-mandated policies of renewables first, shifting off fossil fuels and nukes asap, environmental justice, and support of democratic, public participation in the creation of the new, justice-based, truly clean and locally-based energy system that must be our future.
In this time of war and continued struggle for justice, let’s raise our voices and take action even louder and stronger for this urgent shift as a key part of how we defeat Putin, Trump and other petro state authoritarians and build a new world. Renewable energy builds world peace!
Ted Glick works with Beyond Extreme Energy and is president of 350NJ-Rockland. Past writings and other information, including about Burglar for Peace and 21st Century Revolution, two books published by him in 2020 and 2021, can be found at https://tedglick.com. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick.