On December 2nd in Washington, DC 65 people from 15 states and the District of Columbia, from as far away as Arizona, Mississippi and Florida, testified to a packed room at the National Press Club about their uniformly bad personal and organizational experiences with FERC.
For years a movement has been building to take on FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This agency, officially created in the late 70’s, was little-known beyond the fossil fuel industry until the rise of fracking and with it, the proliferation of proposed new pipelines and other infrastructure to transport and store fracked shale gas.
The groups that have taken up this fight range from small, local neighborhood groups to national organizations, from people primarily concerned about the invasion and disruption of their property to those concerned about the threat posed by fracking to our disrupted climate. All are concerned about the risks to health and safety for those living close to pipelines, compressor stations, storage facilities and export terminals, all of which pollute the air and are prone to explosions and fires.
182 organizations representing communities in 35 states and the District of Columbia signed an open letter to Congress in September calling for an investigation into FERC. At the Peoples Hearing on December 2nd, from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, representatives of these impacted communities provided testimony and evidence demonstrating the need for Congressional hearings on FERC.
The hearing began with a welcome from Maya Von Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and primary leader of this initiative. She explained, “The unparalleled gathering here of so many impacted community representatives demonstrates the broad opposition to the abuses of power and law being inflicted by FERC. Congress needs to investigate how FERC is misusing its authority and to recognize that major changes are necessary to protect people from FERC’s abuse of power.”
Those testifying were organized into panels that addressed specific problems with the way FERC operates:
-private property taken for corporate gain
-people’s rights and state’s rights abused
-conflicts and self-dealing
-ignoring facts, science and law
-future generations ignored
-public voice stripped
-taking public treasures
-false claims of need
-bias and abuse in the process
-people’s rights and voices undermined
-real people, real harms
This was not a hearing where dry, technical reports were given, though there was much factual information, experience and analyses provided. But the dominant leitmotif of the day, running throughout each of the panels, was much more a mix between deep sadness and outraged determination.
It was the many people testifying to how they and their land were threatened with or had already been subject to abuse by pipeline companies backed by FERC: one pipeline after another being built close by; property values falling so much because of the threat of a pipeline or compressor that people couldn’t find any buyers for their homes; the use of armed federal marshals to ensure the cutting down of hundreds of maple trees used by the family that owned the land to make maple syrup; a 42 inch wide gas pipeline being approved despite being just hundreds of feet away from an old and problematic Indian Point nuclear power plant; and more.
It was the testimony from Ohio and Virginia about how FERC now holds “public meetings” about a proposed pipeline by having people, one by one, go into a small room to “testify” to a FERC stenographer out of view and hearing range of the actual public.
It was the testimony about FERC being a revolving door agency that, over the last 30 years, has approved all except one of the gas infrastructure permits applied for by the gas industry. FERC commissioners and employees often come from industry and land jobs in it upon leaving the agency.
It was the testimony about FERC’s refusal to consider the cumulative impacts of clearly-related proposed pipeline and infrastructure projects, segmented by industry into smaller proposals. It was about their consistent practice of “tolling:” after granting a permit to industry, preventing community groups from going to court to appeal it until a mandatory internal FERC appeal process goes on for 6-8 or more months. Those appeals are always denied. In the meantime the company is allowed to begin and sometimes complete construction before the group can get into court.
And it was the testimony about FERC’s deliberate refusal to seriously analyze the impacts on our disrupted climate of their decisions despite overwhelming evidence of problematic leakage rates of methane from gas infrastructure and methane being 86 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
There were a lot of tears throughout the day’s testimony. There was also a palpable determination expressed by many that they will continue to fight. A number of people made reference to the inspiring struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies; one veteran who testified said he was leaving after the hearing to join 2,000 others doing so as part of the Veterans Stand for Standing Rock initiative.
The hearing was filmed and will be up at youtube very soon. There will also be reports put together by four people from the co-sponsoring organizations who formed a kind of judges panel.
Without question, this hearing will advance the movement against the expansion of fracked gas infrastructure. Despite FERC, victories have been won by that movement over the past year. This hearing will help lead to more.
Ted Glick represented Beyond Extreme Energy on the planning committee for the hearing. Past writings and other info can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be reached on twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.