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Protesters in NY Rush Stage, Interrupt FERC Chairman’s Speech at Conference

FERC Chairman Norman Bay had to be escorted away after “keep it in the ground” protesters rushed the stage during his speech at a power producers conference in New York Wednesday.

Multiple news outlets reported on the incident, which was also documented in an edited video posted to the Facebook page of an anti-fossil fuel group that appeared to be behind the protest.

The video shows Bay speaking to attendees at a conference organized by the Independent Power Producers of New York (IPPNY) before he is interrupted by protesters holding banners and criticizing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s certification of fossil fuel infrastructure. In the video, Bay lingers on stage for a moment before being escorted out through a back door.

IPPNY CEO Gavin Donohue was critical of the protesters after the incident, calling them “aggressive...disruptive” and “out of line.”

“It’s a shame when we’re here talking about investing in clean renewable resources, reducing air emissions by over 50% on CO2, that they come in and disrupt this event that has nothing to do with issues they’re concerned with,” Donohue said. “Quite frankly, they should be applauding the industry for the improvements they’ve made.”

The protests are a continuation of what FERC commissioners have described as a period of “heightened infrastructure opposition” that has disrupted the regulatory agency’s work at a time when the number of natural gas pipeline applications has increased (see Daily GPI, Dec. 1, 2015).

“FERC has been a sleepy agency, behind the scenes, doing its work and what it’s supposed to do,” said Frank Maisano, a Washington, DC-based energy specialist with the policy resolution group at law firm Bracewell LLP. “Because it has been a sleepy agency that has just done its work, [the protesters] see it as some nefarious thing, and they’re wrong in more ways than one.”

Maisano pointed to recent comments made by Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that the “keep it in the ground” protesters are “naive” to the specific challenges related to transitioning away from fossil fuels (see Daily GPI, May 9).

While they might be getting attention and “making themselves heroes within their own community,” anti-fossil fuel climate activists are “undermining their own cause” when they obstruct FERC from carrying out its regulatory functions, Maisano said.

“If you want to have the president’s plan or even a more aggressive plan...then you have to have FERC operating effectively because you need the infrastructure,” he said. “You can’t have a shift away from coal to natural gas without gas infrastructure. You can’t have a shift toward renewables without having transmission infrastructure, and that’s what FERC does.”

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