Category Archives: FERC

Legislation Introduced to Boost Public Participation in FERC Processes

From ABRA Update #230:

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced legislation on May 15 to create an Office of Public Participation and Consumer Advocacy at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The Public Engagement at FERC Act, S. 1477, will assist residential and small commercial energy consumers in participating in FERC proceedings, ensuring the public has a strong role in shaping the nation’s energy future. Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ben Cardin (DMD) and Mark Warner (D-VA) are co-sponsors. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

Sen. Shaheen introduced a similar bill in the last Congress, which was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as was S. 1477, but there were no hearings. It remains to be seen whether this new version will have a more positive fate.

New Rules from FERC on Pipeline Profit Margins?

A DeSmog article on May 13, 2019, Energy Regulators May Reconsider Rules Critics Say Fueled America’s Oil and Gas Pipeline Glut, discusses a “little-noticed Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announcement could have an outsized impact on the oil and gas pipeline industries — if the commission decides to snap shut loopholes that analysts say create financial incentives to build too many new pipelines in the U.S.” FERC’s announcement was followed by a March 21 notice of inquiry requesting “information and stakeholder views to help the Commission explore whether, and if so how, it should modify its policies concerning the determination of the return on equity (ROE) to be used in designing jurisdictional rates charged by public utilities. The Commission also seeks comment on whether any changes to its policies concerning public utility ROEs should be applied to interstate natural gas and oil pipelines.”

The high rate of return on equity (a guaranteed 14% for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline) allows for the construction of unnecessary pipeline projects, “which critics say will leave the United States criss-crossed by newly built fossil fuel infrastructure despite falling renewable energy prices and growing concern about the climate crisis. Critics add that because utilities can pass along costs to consumers in their monthly bills, FERC has effectively allowed them to use other people’s money to build pipes that may never be fully used.”

Now is your chance to comment to FERC on whether it should change the way it determines rate of return. Comments from the public on FERC’s new inquiry are due on June 26, 2019.

Natural Gas Industry Ask President to Fill FERC Vacancies

From the ABRA Update #226, April 18, 2019:

Five natural gas industry trade associations wrote President Trump on April 15 urging that he “nominate new Commissioners to fill the current vacancy and the forthcoming vacancy on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) as soon as possible. A full Commission has five members, but FERC currently has four members and a sitting Commissioner’s term is set to expire this summer which will create a second vacancy.” The letter further stated that “the lack of a full Commission can delay the approval of pending projects, such as natural gas infrastructure projects, thereby hindering the advancement of critical infrastructure.” The associations’ letter is available here.

Briefs Filed in Appeals Court Suit Against FERC and ACP

The following briefs have been filed (to date) in the suit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

The Joint Opening Brief of Conservation Petitioners [including Friends of Nelson] and Landowner Petitioners, filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) on April 5, 2019.

Briefs filed by parties that are challenging part or all of FERC’s certificate for the pipeline:

Amici curiae, or “friends of the court,” briefs in support of of the suit”

And one brief filed by ACP itself, challenging one element of FERC’s certificate:  Opening brief filed by Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC

(The addendum of statutes and regulations from several of these briefs was removed to make the file sizes more manageable.)

What happens next:  According to the SELC, FERC’s response brief is due on June 19, ACP’s response brief is due on June 26, and SELC’s reply brief is due on July 10, along with the reply briefs of their fellow petitioners. Oral argument will likely be scheduled for sometime in the fall.

NC General Assembly Members Ask FERC to Halt ACP

After a lobby day last week, 22 members of the North Carolina General Assembly signed an April 12, 2019 letter to FERC urging “the Commission to issue a stop work order, and suspend the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity in order to re-assess the need for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”

Sierra Club, NC Pipeline Watch, NC Conservation Network, other partners, and congregants from the NC Council of Churches met at the North Carolina General Assembly to advocate for the future world they want to live in. Community lobbyists also passed out the NC Council of Church’s governing board’s statement opposing fracked gas pipelines; the Council represents more than 1.5 million congregants across the state.

Groups File Federal Appeals Court Brief Challenging ACP

On Friday April 12, 2019, a group of ten religious, social justice, and civil rights organizations filed a “friend of the court” brief urging the Federal Court of Appeals in DC to revoke the key federal permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The ten groups are Center for Earth Ethics (headed by Karenna Gore); Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice; the Natural Resources Defense Council; the North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign, Repairers of the Breach (led by Rev. William Barber III); Satchidananda Ashram – Yogaville, Inc.; Union Grove Missionary Baptist Church; Virginia Interfaith Power & Light; Virginia State Conference NAACP; and WE ACT for Environmental Justice. All we reaffirming long-standing opposition to the ACP.

Jonathan Sokolow, writing in Blue Virginia on April 15, 2019, explains that, “The 50-plus-page court filing states that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) violated federal law and ‘ignored significant minority populations that live along the proposed route.’ It argues that the permit issued by FERC should be revoked because FERC ‘did not take a hard look at the health and environmental effects of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’ on ‘environmental justice communities.’ It points in particular to FERC’s failure to consider the disproportionate effect that the pipeline would have on the historic African American community of Union Hill, in Buckingham County, as well as on Native American communities along the proposed route. As the brief points out, Dominion Energy seeks to build three compressor stations to transport fracked methane ‘natural’ gas along a 600-mile route from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina. ‘All three compressor stations would be located in census tracts where the minority population, or the population under the poverty level, is higher than the state average.'”

Martina Cole, writing for NRDC, cites examples of FERC’s flawed analysis:

  • Misguided use of census tract data masks communities of color
  • Failure to assess adverse, disproportionate impacts on communities of color

She notes that FERC’s actions are a model of environmental injustice. “In the first instance, FERC’s gerrymandered analysis led to the erasure of communities of color, which led to it not analyzing the ACP’s unique effect on these communities, which led to its faulty conclusion that the ACP would have no disproportionately high and adverse impacts on African American communities. Then when FERC did acknowledge the existence of a minority environmental justice community, its striking disregard of the clear health risks to the community amounted to the same erroneous conclusion of no impact. In each case, FERC’s flawed analysis helped produce FERC’s faulty approval of the project. This is what environmental injustice looks like.”

Cole finishes by saying, “It is soberingly clear how and why polluting fossil fuel infrastructure is disproportionately placed in communities of color, and FERC’s permissive and inappropriate approach to reviewing these projects facilitates this environmental injustice. The D.C. Circuit can prevent imminent harm to environmental justice communities along the ACP path by vacating FERC’s undue approval of the ACP. Alternatively, the court could remand the case back to FERC for a real analysis that is consistent with the law’s requirements. Such an analysis would not obscure the facts. It would recognize environmental justice communities and the threats they face. It would reveal the disproportionate burden the ACP would have on vulnerable communities. It would thoroughly review project alternatives. It would demonstrate that environmental justice communities matter. As part of a fulsome public interest analysis, a reasoned environmental justice review would further demonstrate what is already known: that the ACP is not needed, is environmentally unjust, would cause permanent environmental damage, and should be rejected.”

Read Jonathan Sololow’s full Blue Virginia column here.

Read Martina Cole’s full NRDC post here.

Read the full Amicus Brief here.