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Environmental Groups Want Congress to Investigate FERC 'Bias'

Dozens of environmental groups, including Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN), Clean Water Action and American Sustainable Business Council, are urging top members of both House and Senate energy committees to schedule hearings on FERC's implementation of the Natural Gas Act (NGA), and to reform the NGA.

"Unfortunately, after four decades of FERC's unaccountable and irresponsible approach to energy development, the trust of the American people has been strained beyond the breaking point," the organizations wrote in a 23-page letter they said they sent this week to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

"As it currently stands, the language of the Natural Gas Act is being misused by FERC to strip people of their legal and constitutional rights, to strip the legal authority of states, to undermine the authority of other federal agencies, to prevent fair public participation in the pipeline review process, to ignore the mandates of the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, to take from residents and citizens their private property rights, to take from communities the protection of public parks, forests and conserved lands that they have invested heavily in protecting, to take jobs and destroy small businesses, to inflict on our communities health, safety and environmental harms, all for the benefit of a single industry seeking to advance its own corporate profits and business edge over its competitors."

The letter, signed by representatives of more than 175 organizations, includes a list of complaints against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, claiming, among other things, that "FERC suffers from an unparalleled bias in support of the industry it is supposed to regulate...routinely uses consultants to undertake work on their behalf who have vested interests in the outcome of projects they are hired to work on...[and] there is a revolving door between FERC and the industries it regulates..."

The groups urged Upton, Murkowski, Pallone and Cantwell to hold hearings "to learn the many ways communities are being harmed by FERC's implementation of the Natural Gas Act as currently written," and to "reform the Natural Gas Act so as to better protect communities including eliminating the threats associated with natural gas infrastructure." They also urged opposition, "or at a minimum hold in abeyance, any further advancement of the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016."

The Senate agreed, in a voice vote, to conference with House lawmakers on S 2012, also known as the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015. Versions of the bill (S 2012) passed the Senate on an 85-12 vote in April (see Daily GPIApril 20), and the House by a 241-178 vote in May. The Senate and House agreed in July to conference in an effort to reconcile differences between two versions of an omnibus energy bill (see Daily GPIJuly 12).

The letter echoed many of the complaints laid out in a lawsuit DRN filed in federal court earlier this year, in which the environmental group argued that the regulatory agency is "biased toward approving jurisdictional natural gas pipeline projects" because of its funding structure (see Daily GPIMarch 4). DRN made a similar argument a few months earlier when it led a coalition urging lawmakers to investigate FERC over this alleged bias towards approving pipelines (see Daily GPIJan. 19). The claims are part of DRN's ongoing effort to block the Pennsylvania-to-New Jersey PennEast Pipeline (see Daily GPISept. 25, 2015).

But environmentalists alleging that FERC is biased towards approving natural gas pipelines because of the agency’s fee-based funding structure are "profoundly mistaken," the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America told the court (see Daily GPIJune 2).

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