“Part of the reason for the [Trump] Department of Energy’s call for FERC, EPA and other bodies to help alter electricity markets and aid [fossil fuel and nuclear] power plants is because the agency has limited power to direct energy policy. ‘DOE has no authority,’ former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, a Democrat, said ahead of the report’s release. ‘It’s FERC that has all the authority. . ..and DOE does not control FERC. I would say that when I was there, and I’d say it now.’”
-Politico’s Morning Energy, 8/24/17
Like the vast majority of Americans, I had never heard of FERC—the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission—until about five years ago. I didn’t know that, when it comes to climate disruption, it is probably the most dangerous agency in the federal government.
Why is it so dangerous?
One reason is because it has the power to determine what the energy sources are from which we get our electricity. Secondly, it operates, or did until a few years ago, very much behind the scenes, virtually out of sight. And third, it is a corrupted agency, doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry, particularly but not only when it comes to approving new pipelines and infrastructure needed to dramatically expand fracking for methane gas.
It is a rubber stamp for the gas industry. In 30 years, it has turned down one, or at most two, out of hundreds of applications for gas expansion permits from the gas industry.
In open court several years ago, during the Minisink, NY compressor station lawsuit, I heard the lawyer for FERC acknowledge this reality but justify it as a result of the gas/pipeline industry understanding how things worked at FERC. That is certainly true, to the severe detriment of our heating-up climate and a lot of people whose lives have been very disrupted.
Over the last several years, a grassroots-based movement against FERC has emerged made up primarily of many hundreds of local groups fighting fracking pipelines and infrastructure proposed for their localities. There are also a growing number of state, regional and national climate and environmental groups which have become active with this movement.
However, there are many in the climate and broader progressive movement who know little or nothing about this most dangerous agency. I saw that close-up at the Peoples Climate March on April 29th. The group Beyond Extreme Energy, BXE, working with puppeteer extraordinaire Nadine Bloch, brought a big 10 foot high FERC puppet to that march, and we were flooded with people coming by to check it out. Almost all of them had never heard of FERC, and these were climate activists.
BXE has been directly taking it to FERC for over three years, nonviolently disrupting its monthly FERC Commissioners meetings for over two years until they were suspended this past February. They were suspended after former Chairperson Norman Bay resigned abruptly after being removed from that position by Trump in the week right after he moved into the White House. FERC had no quorum of three commissioners, so they could no longer meet.
Since January Beyond Extreme Energy has been co-leading with others an effort to shine a very big spotlight on rubber-stamping FERC. We have worked with close to 200 other groups in a FERC Vacancies Campaign during this time when FERC, for the first time ever, was unable to approve gas pipelines and infrastructure.
Our collaborative efforts led to FERC going over six months without a quorum of commissioners, a six month reprieve for hundreds of local communities in the bulls-eye for an expected FERC approval of a new gas pipeline or gas export terminal. Now, however, due to Senate approval in early August of Trump’s first two commissioner nominations, FERC has its three-person quorum. And they’ve already rubber-stamp-approved the Nexus pipeline planned for Ohio and Michigan.
However, they’ve also lost two important cases in federal court.** These legal victories will make it harder for them going forward, especially because, at local levels, the grassroots movement is staying strong and getting better connected.
On the morning of September 20th this movement will gather in front of FERC’s DC headquarters. We will rally outside, then go into FERC’s first Commissioner meeting in eight months and make our presence very known. Following that, we will go to Capitol Hill to let our Senators and House members know it’s time to investigate FERC and make some big changes with FERC and our energy policy.
The Senate and House are actually moving bills that would expand FERC’s authority. One in the House actually strips the President of the border crossing authority used to stop Keystone XL and gives it to FERC. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017, S. 1460, expands FERC’s authority by requiring other permitting agencies to “give deference” to FERC, and it limits FERC’s review of LNG facilities to 45 days.
We will say, in front of FERC and on Capitol Hill: Stop Trump’s Dirty Energy Agenda: The Change Starts Here!
Groups and individuals can take action in support of this initiative in several ways:
It’s time for the broader climate and progressive movement to join with the grassroots movements fighting FERC and new fossil fuel infrastructure. FERC is central, essential, to Trump’s dirty energy agenda being carried out. Join us on September 20th!
(More information can be found at http://beyondextremeenergy.org)