Protesters may find it more difficult to disrupt future FERC meetings after the regulators this week adopted a rule, based on language already in use by other federal agencies, specifying "the roles available to the public at the Commission's open meetings."
Currently, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulations state that members of the public "are invited to listen and observe at open meetings." But, according to the new rule, "several other agencies have regulations that expressly address disruptive conduct by members of the public and their removal for such conduct" [RM15-15].
The rule utilizes language from Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and Rural Telephone Bank open meeting regulations "to clarify that the term 'observe' does not include disruptive behavior."
The rule also uses FCC language "to clarify that communications made or presented by unscheduled presenters will not be considered by the Commission," as well as language similar to a Consumer Product Safety Commission regulation "to clarify that members of the public may use electronic audio and visual equipment to record open meetings in a nondisruptive manner."
The rule is due to go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
Some recent open meetings have been delayed or interrupted by protesters "making unscheduled statements, standing up repeatedly, walking about the room, and displaying signs," FERC said.
In January, the Commission was forced to briefly recess its business meeting after protesters repeatedly interrupted Chairman Cheryl LaFleur (see Daily GPI, Jan. 22). The protesters addressed multiple topics, including federal government subsidies for fossil fuels, climate change and FERC's role in natural gas pipeline permitting. After a five-minute break to clear the room, commissioners restarted the meeting without incident. "This is relatively new territory for FERC, and I think we're a bit learning on the job how to handle situations like that," LaFleur said at the time.
"The Commission is concerned about the impact of public disruptions on its ability to conduct open meetings," according to the rule. "To ensure compliance with the government in the Sunshine Act, it is essential that the Commission's open meetings focus on the items listed in the posted agenda. Members of the public do not have a right to disrupt open meetings or to raise extraneous issues."