In a news release on June 9, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee announced an amendment to its regulations which says that even if a project has all other certifications and permissions to begin construction, it must wait to do so until the Commission either acts on the rehearing request or the 30-day time limit passes with no requests for rehearing.
When FERC issues a certificate of public convenience and necessity, allowing a project to proceed, affected landowners have the right to ask FERC to reconsider. Although FERC is supposed to respond to such requests within 30 days, it frequently issues a “tolling order,” which indefinitely extends FERC’s deadline to respond. FERC thus freezes the landowner’s request for a hearing while allowing pipeline companies to continue construction – meaning that by the time a landowner has a hearing the pipeline construction may be completed.
According to FERC Chair Neil Chatterjee, quoted in the press release, “‘The Commission has undertaken a number of initiatives to improve affected landowners’ access to a fair and transparent process and today’s effort is another important step forward,’ Chatterjee said. ‘These are complex issues, with a diverse array of stakeholder input, but I remain firmly committed to doing what we can to make the FERC process as fair, open, and transparent as possible for all those affected while the Commission thoroughly considers all issues.'”
However, FERC did not define what it meant by “begin construction,” and could still allow pipeline companies to condemn property before FERC makes a decision on a landowners appeal, and, depending on the definition of “begin construction,” go forward to cut down all the trees, dig the trench for the pipeline, spray herbicides, cross waterbodies – everything but actually put the pipe in the ground.
FERC has been under mounting pressure from landowner rights advocates and from Congress to address inequities in its hearing process for affected property owners.