FERC held its May 19 regular meeting before an audience of staffers and journalists, but no members of the general public, having voted unanimously the day before to make it "open to the public via webcast only."
"The decision to conduct this open meeting by webcast only was not made lightly," said Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Norman Bay. "It was made after consultation with law enforcement and our security staff, and the primary concern was preserving the safety of the public and Commission staff.
"The webcast allows us to maintain the ability of the public to observe and listen to the Commission's meetings. As always, the webcast and a transcript of the webcast will be posted on our website."
The decision came after months of FERC meetings interrupted by protesters who have shouted their objections to the Commission "rubber-stamping" approval of energy projects. Last year, FERC rescheduled an open meeting in an effort to sidestep large groups of protesters expected to gather outside its headquarters in Washington, DC (see Daily GPI, May 8, 2015).
More recently, several arrests were reported outside FERC headquarters Monday, and activists operating under the "keep it in the ground" banner have boasted that they would demonstrate outside the homes of FERC commissioners.
"My policy has been, and I think the Commission's has been that you respond to incivility with civility," said Commissioner Tony Clark.
"I find it unfortunate that we had to decide to restrict access to the building today, but it was done with the consultation of law enforcement, and I understand why," he said. "If you look at the room in the headquarters building, it's simply not designed to handle the type of activities that were being discussed. When decisions like this are made, public safety has to come first. Not only public safety of people who wish to lawfully go about their business attending a meeting like this, but for our staff, for the FERC security team, and for the protesters themselves."
Last week, Bay had to be escorted away after protesters rushed the stage during his speech at a power producers conference in New York (see Daily GPI, May 12). Another contingent of anti-fossil fuel development protesters took aim at a U.S. Bureau of Land Management lease sale in Colorado (see Daily GPI, May 13).
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). Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has said the protesters are "naive" about the challenges of transitioning away from fossil fuels (see Daily GPI, May 9).