Time to March Against Fracking and FERC!

The July 13 March on Washington to Stop Fracked Gas Exports (http://stopgasexports.org) is happening at just the right time. Sign up and make plans to come and bring others!

The reason this date was initially chosen was because, in May, the federal agency which needs to approve proposed export terminals for natural gas announced that it would be making a decision by sometime in August about the proposed Cove Point, Md. export terminal.

What is that federal agency? It’s FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a little-known but very important entity that, among other tasks, approves or rejects gas industry proposals for interstate natural gas pipelines and compressor stations and related infrastructure, as well as liquefied natural gas (LNG) import and export terminals.

Actually, that possibility of a rejection is essentially a theoretical possibility, because FERC has approved virtually all proposals brought to it by the gas industry for the infrastructure it says it needs. FERC is a rubber stamp agency, but two new developments over the past 10 days may well be harbingers of some badly-needed changes.

10 days ago the Department of Energy released a study of methane emissions over the lifecycle of Liquified Natural Gas, and despite weaknesses in the methodology, the study determined that, in the words of CCAN Chief Policy Analyst James McGarry, “US LNG is nearly as bad as coal when exported to Europe and worse than coal when exported to Asia when the climate impacts of methane leakage are measured over a 20-year timeframe.”

As climate blogger Joe Romm put it in a Climate Progress article: “The extra emissions from LNG completely eliminate whatever benefit there might be of building billion-dollar export terminals and other LNG infrastructure. At worst, it helps accelerate the world past the 2 degrees C warming threshold into Terra incognita—a planet of amplifying feedbacks and multiple simultaneous catastrophic impacts.”

It is not good news for FERC that the Department of Energy released this report. FERC’s draft environmental review of the Cove Point proposal, for example, released May 15, amazingly said that there was no basis for saying that the building and operation of this LNG export terminal would have any significant impacts on the climate.

The other bad news for FERC–but good news for the planet and communities whose health and safety is impacted by FERC’s pro-industry posture–came on Friday, June 6, just two days ago. On that day a three judge panel of the DC Court of Appeals, which hears legal appeals of FERC decisions, unanimously decided to order additional analysis and review by FERC of an approval it had given in 2012. This approval was for one of a number of new gas pipelines being built or proposed to bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania and elsewhere across Maryland, New Jersey, New York and other states for both increased domestic use and eventual overseas export.

The judges said, in part, “we hold that in conducting its environmental review of the [Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company’s] Northeast Project. . . FERC impermissibly segmented the environmental review in violation of NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act]. We also find that FERC’s [environmental review] is deficient in its failure to include any meaningful analysis of the cumulative impacts of the upgrade projects. We therefore grant the petition for review and remand the case to the Commission for further consideration of segmentation and cumulative impacts.”

This decision strikes right at the heart of FERC’s rubber-stamping method of operations. They use segmentation to try to essentially hide the environmental impacts of a project, and they are weak, if not worse, when it comes to substantive and accurate reviews of the cumulative environmental, including climate, impacts of gas industry proposals.

This court decision is a concrete indication that this important court, at least, is starting to do its job by exercising independent and critical judicial review of FERC’s operations. It puts the pressure on for them to reform their pro-industry rubber stamping or face future, similar legal decisions on other cases.

It is ironic that the White House’s proposed EPA regulations for power plants were released literally right in between the May 29 release of the DOE study and the June 6 announcement of the Court of Appeals decision. As welcome as those proposed regulations are, the reality is that, absent a change in the Obama Administration’s up-to-now vocal and practical support of fracking, the regulations will lead to an increase in fracking as power companies increasingly switch from coal to natural gas as the preferred fuel source. Absent that policy change, wind, solar, other renewables and efficiency efforts will suffer.

In the words of Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists as quoted in a June 4 NY Times article, “There is no question that depressed natural gas prices have had an adverse effect on the wind and solar industries. It’s stunting zero-carbon alternatives.”

That is why it is so important that the July 13th March on Washington to Stop Fracked Gas Exports (http://stopgasexports.org) be a demonstration of many thousands. We will gather at 12:30 pm on the west side of the US Capitol for a rally featuring speakers like Sandra Steingraber, Wenonah Hauter, Mike Tidwell, Tim DeChristopher, Rev. Yearwood, fracking fighters from Dimock, Pa. and Cove Point and more. Then we will march on FERC!

There are historical moments when masses of people in the streets demanding what is right and just, in a focused way, can have major impacts. I’m convinced, on the issues of fracking, LNG exports and the climate crisis, this is such a moment. Let’s show our power, the power of grassroots people organized and taking action together!