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Pipeline Customers Support Commission Complaint NOPR

Pipeline Customers Support Commission Complaint NOPR

The Pipeline Customer Coalition (PCC) says it supports FERC's proposed revisions to its complaint procedures that would foster informal resolution of commercial differences upfront. The objective is to speed up the complaint process at the Commission by cutting down on the number of formal complaints filed. The coalition believes this can be accomplished by the FERC mandating that regulated energy companies make available "carefully delineated" pre-filing dispute resolution measures for their customers' use.

Specifically, the coalition proposes that each FERC-regulated entity, such as natural gas pipelines, be required to maintain in their tariffs informal complaint resolution procedures. A customer, however, shouldn't be compelled to use the procedures as a condition to filing a formal complaint, it said. But if it should choose this option, a regulated energy company would have 48 hours to take the "first step" towards resolving a customer's complaint on an informal basis [RM98-13]. The time limit is to ensure against dispute-resolution procedures becoming a "vehicle for procrastination."

"The mandatory availability of this kind of procedure in the energy industries regulated by FERC would send a clear message to the industry that the Commission expects each party to a dispute to take all reasonable steps to resolve its disputes promptly without federal government intervention," the coalition noted. Industry comments on a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) recommending reforms to the complaint process, which was issued in July, are due at the Commission today (Oct. 5th).

In its filing, the coalition - which is made up of producers, marketers, distributors and end-users - primarily proposed "refinements" rather than "broad structural changes" to the NOPR that would apply uniformly to natural gas pipelines, electric utilities, oil pipelines and hydroelectric concerns, said Fred Moring, a Washington D.C. attorney representing the group. It believes the Commission is "basically on the right track." As an example of some refinements, the coalition recommended FERC extend the time for parties to respond to complaints to 20 days from 10 days.

Coalition members still are concerned that the Commission's emphasis on the use of arbitration or other resolution measures prior to filing a complaint could delay the process and could mean lost money for producers and other pipeline customers since the Natural Gas Act doesn't provide for retroactive refunds, he said. "That's still a problem. There's no question about it. We're not saying that [this] disappears somehow." As "one way of finessing the refund problem," however, Moring believes FERC has the authority to provide interim relief in certain cases to complaining gas pipeline customers up front - based on the "prima facie facts alleged" - pending final resolution of the "particulars" of a complaint. This way pipeline customers could avoid having to "go through an evidentiary proceeding and the whole nine yards" before receiving some relief. Such action by FERC, however, would be the exception since the complaining parties would have a "heavy burden" to prove that the interim relief was warranted, he said.

Susan Parker

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