Courtesy of NRDC.
By Gillian Giannetti
NRDC, the Sustainable FERC Project, and more than 50 other organizations sent a clear message on May 26th to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: FERC must reform how it reviews applications for new gas pipeline infrastructure.
FERC has been reviewing its 22-year-old Certificate Policy Statement — its guiding document on how it reviews new gas pipeline applications — for three years. In July 2018, NRDC led another large coalition that called on FERC to: determine pipeline need through an “all relevant factors” approach; restrict eminent domain and recognize FERC’s important role in protecting landowners; fully evaluate climate pollution and other environmental factors; and ensure meaningful opportunities for public participation. The docket (PL18-1) has sat largely dormant ever since.
There’s a huge need for change. FERC has greenlighted more than 1,000 pipeline and LNG projects since 1999 while rejecting only a handful. Now groups like the International Energy Agency are saying nations need to halt new approvals for fossil fuel infrastructure.
FERC has made some important progress on gas pipeline reviews this year. It is developing an Office of Public Participation and, in March, it started to assess the significance of a gas pipeline project’s climate impacts.
But even the agency recognizes that more work needs to be done. That’s why, in February, FERC announced that it wanted a second round of comments on its gas policy. FERC laid out 25 new questions in this round. Eleven of those 25 questions addressed how FERC should continue to improve its climate reviews, and eight related to how FERC has approached environmental justice. (Chairman Rich Glick has stated that he considers environmental justice issues to be a top priority.)
The NRDC-led coalition comments, totaling 107 pages, outline a detailed, measured and achievable roadmap for FERC as it works to improve its review process. The comments highlight numerous strategies for FERC to employ to ensure that a project’s full climate impacts are quantified and considered as part of FERC’s public interest assessment. Additionally, the comments call on FERC to implement necessary changes in how it conducts its outreach with affected communities, particularly environmental justice communities. These include:
- Developing (and making available in a variety of languages) one-pagers that explain the review process, how to participate in FERC cases, and how to appeal a FERC decision, in easy-to-understand language;
- Simplifying the comment process by providing an email option (currently all FERC comments must either be mailed or submitted through a cumbersome e-Filing system) and extending the comment deadline beyond 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time; and
- Embedding Commission staff in communities along a proposed project, or engaging in regular, well-publicized FERC site visits, to ensure robust community engagement and to help identify environmental justice concerns early in the process.
As in 2018, the over 50 organizations that joined NRDC today have sent a clear message: reform is needed — now. We hope that FERC is listening.
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