Future Hope column, November 25, 2019
Roadshowing to Replace Rubber-stamping FERC
By Ted Glick
Between mid-October and mid-November I took part with five other members of Beyond Extreme Energy—Jimmy Betts, Kendall Hale, Andy Hinz, Steve Norris and Maple Osterbrink–on two week-long road trips, each about a thousand miles of driving, from the Pennsylvania Appalachians to the Carolina lowlands and coastlands. Over the course of these trips we met with what turned out to be hundreds of local people, most of them working or taking action against FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, fracking, and the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.
The first trip began in western Pennsylvania, in the Pittsburgh area, and the southernmost stop on the second trip was in Savannah, Ga., the location of the Elba Island Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) export terminal. In between we went to Doddridge County and Buckhannon, WV; Harrisonburg, Staunton and Nelson County, Va; Charlotte, Tillery, Rocky Mount, Fayetteville and Robeson County, NC; and Columbia, SC.
This was not a tour of blue state, coastal strongholds of progressive activism. Yet everywhere we went we found local fractivists and climate organizers who were hanging in there and continuing to organize and fight despite the depradations of despicable FERC and its gas industry collaborators in human rights and environmental crimes. We were inspired by the work and commitment of so many people, the organized folks who are refusing to give up and are winning some victories.
BXE called these organized trips “FERC Into FREC Roadshows.” Throughout the trips we showed a powerful 15 minute video produced last year, “FERC Doesn’t Work.” It was well-received, as was the idea of replacing FERC with FREC, a Federal Renewable Energy Commission.
We actively solicited ideas from people we met with about how a new FREC should be structured so that it is the kind of energy and electricity federal agency needed. We received over 80 specific ideas over the course of the trips!
BXE launched FERC Into FREC in mid-April at the FERC headquarters in Washington, DC. Two of us, Drew Hudson and myself, successfully climbed a ladder onto an overhang 25 feet above the FERC entrance where we unfurled a large banner which said, “Federal Energy Regulatory Commission NO!; Federal Renewable Energy Commission YES!” It hung there for six hours, through one of FERC’s monthly, third-Thursday meetings, after which we negotiated with the police to come down with the banner in exchange for an agreement that we wouldn’t be arrested, which they honored.
We followed up on this action with the circulation of a sign-on statement, “The Green New Deal Must Include a Federal Renewable Energy Commission to Replace FERC.” It concluded with these words: “We urge elected officials, media outlets, community and religious leaders and all people of good will to join us in our public call for FERC to be replaced by FREC. As we continue to resist FERC, fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure, we must build a movement toward this essential, critically-needed objective.”
By the end of August 220 organizations, from large national environmental to local grassroots groups, had signed onto this statement. We then sent it to all of the Presidential candidates at that time of the Democratic, Republican (except Trump), Green and Libertarian parties. Five of them responded positively and endorsed this idea: two Greens, Howie Hawkins and Ian Schlakman, and three Democrats, Joe Sestak, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
It is realistically possible that the next President elected in 2020 could be a supporter of transforming FERC into FREC.
On a phone call prior to the first roadshow, a key local organizer in Pittsburgh spoke about why he had responded positively to the roadshow idea: it could provide local people with hope that things could actually change, he said. This wasn’t just a good idea; it was an idea backed by, so far, 220 organizations and some Green New Deal-supporting Presidential candidates.
Here’s what he wrote afterwards: “Thank you for coming to western Pennsylvania. I know that your visit has already changed some of the conversation. One example: I could see a dramatic change in mood in the man I had spent several hours with just a few days before. But I also had a productive conversation with several young people who are anxious to do more.”
The local organizer in Doddridge County, WV wrote this: “Please relay to your fellow travelers that meeting all of you yesterday was a positive, comfortable experience for me. Others here also enjoyed time spent with you. I thank you for all of your time spent to protect the world that we live in and for coming to see our bit of the globe.”
And the Friends of Nelson leader in Va. communicated afterwards: “I am so appreciative of the work you all are doing, and feel fortunate that FoN was able to participate in The Roadshow. The people present that evening were the ones most likely to have thoughtful comments about how FREC should do things differently.”
As I’ve thought about these two weeks of traveling, listening and talking, making connections, strengthening the movement, the word that has come to mind the most is the word, “deepening.” For me and I think others, this trip deepened my commitment to and belief in the possibility of the kind of fundamental, transformational change embodied in the ideas of a Green New Deal and FERC Into FREC.
Here are some of the two trips’ highlights:
-Seeing and hearing about the ubiquitous and destructive impact of a decade or more of fracking in the Pittsburgh region: a children’s cancer cluster being discovered in Washington County likely linked to fracking; the huge gas refineries and “cracker” plants (which use gas to create huge amounts of plastic, just what we need); the 50 low-income families still receiving drinking water from a local service organization because of the poisoning of their water wells nine years ago; and the gas pipeline which exploded seven days after being put into operation last year because of heavy rains and the way it was installed. At the community meeting in the evening, people had a lot of ideas for how a new FREC should function based upon all the bad experiences they have been having for so long with FERC and other government agencies.
-The strong applause at the memorial service/celebration in Buckhannon, WV for deceased clean water fractivist April Pearson-Keating when I just spoke the words, “turning FERC into the Federal Renewable Energy Commission.”
-A local NPR reporter’s interest in our participatory, collective discussion in Staunton, Va. following the showing of the video, and the story which was aired afterwards.
-The many ideas about FREC from Friends of Nelson and Friends of Buckingham members following the video, and following electricity coming on less than half an hour before the meeting was scheduled to start after being out for hours in the immediate area.
-Our small but loud demonstration with two big banners on a very cold and windy day in Charlotte, NC outside the headquarters of Duke Energy, with lots of security watching us.
-A wonderful discussion in Tillery, NC with member of the Concerned Citizens of Tillery, an African American group initially formed in the 30’s as former sharecroppers were able to benefit from a New Deal program which provided them land to farm. CCT has been a state and national leader for decades on a variety of issues, from justice for Black farmers, to health care, to environmental justice. Most recently they have been actively opposing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline which would come through their county.
-Learning from a landowner in Nash County who has successfully prevented the ACP from going on his land for a year and a half that the town of Rocky Mount is charging consumers a 1% tax to cover the costs of methane leakage from their municipal gas distribution system.
-Visiting an area near Fayetteville where the ACP has wreaked a huge amount of devastation on either side of a stream that they will put the pipeline under if built.
-Learning about the Lumbee Tribe in Robeson County, the largest Indigenous group east of the Mississippi, which has been dealing with racism, poverty and environmental injustice for a long time. We were inspired by the powerful and unified rally at a local public school of local people and supporters around the state, followed by a spirited march to the site of a planned, massive, LNG storage terminal near the town of Maxton.
-And in my first-ever visit to beautiful Savannah, Ga., meeting with key local organizers and being taken on a tour to see the very big Elba Island LNG export terminal, just about ready to start exporting gas.
BXE is not done with the organizing of FERC Into FREC events and the building of a movement for an end to FERC. We are currently figuring out the next steps, which without question will include finding ways to involve people from the localities we’ve visited.
Just like the Green New Deal, FERC Into FREC is an idea whose time has clearly come, and we will do everything we can to make it so, as soon as possible.
Ted Glick has been an organizer with BXE since its founding in 2014 and an organizer, activist and writer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twiter.com/jtglick