Back after a brief summer recess, Chairman Neil Chatterjee announced several structural changes at FERC's monthly public meeting Thursday, designed to increase efficiency or streamline processes, but not, as had been reported in some quarters, to quash the Commission's market oversight responsibilities.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will realign some of the functions of the Office of Enforcement (OE) and move them to other offices to better reflect key functions and mission statements of the offices and improve organizational efficiency.
"FERC has not eliminated anything," a spokesperson told NGI. "This is a reorganization."
Policy-related functions currently in OE will be transferred to the Office of Energy Policy and Innovation (OEPI), while compliance and market surveillance functions are to remain in OE, FERC said. In addition, data management support functions in OE's Division of Analytics and Surveillance will be transferred to a newly created Data Governance Division within the Office of the Executive Director.
"The reorganization in no way impacts resources needed to address market oversight and compliance activities executed by the Office of Enforcement," FERC said. "OE maintains sufficient resources to execute comprehensive oversight and compliance activities on behalf of the Commission."
Commissioners appeared stung by published reports that they planned to eliminate OE.
"As the chairman well knows, I've been quite critical of some of the things we've done on enforcement,” said Commissioner Richard Glick. “I don't think we're being as aggressive as we should be in some cases.
“But, having said that, I've read a couple of articles the last couple of days suggesting that somehow this is some kind of conspiracy, that this is going to de-fang the Office of Enforcement. I don't think that's the case at all. It sounds to me like it's just a simple matter of administrative efficiency, trying to move things around a little bit to make them function a little bit better."
A group of Senate Democrats and one Independent is not convinced.
"Several recent actions seem to indicate that the Commission may not be fully committed to finding, stopping and punishing manipulative acts that can stifle competition and result in unjust and unreasonable prices," Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Angus King (I-ME) said in a letter to FERC Thursday.
Citing the OE reorganization, a recent decline in the number of civil penalty actions initiated by FERC, and a decision earlier this year to rescind a decade-old policy on issuing notices of alleged violations (NAV) regarding investigations, the group submitted more than a dozen questions to the Commission.
"We hope your responses will help reassure Congress and markets that the Commission remains committed and eager to protect American consumers from all forms of energy market fraud and manipulation," the senators wrote.
On another note, Chatterjee said he has directed a revision of FERC's process on certain requests for rehearing of Section 7 certificates.
"Our objective is simple. We want to ensure that landowners are afforded a judicially appealable rehearing order as quickly as possible," Chatterjee said. "To accomplish this, I've worked with the Office of General Counsel to refine our staff process to prioritize the narrow set of rehearing requests involving landowner rights.
“For these cases, we've established a target of issuing rehearing orders within 30 days, and avoiding to the extent practicable the use of tolling orders. I'm confident that with this reallocation of staff resources we can substantially reduce the time we take to issue rehearing orders in these critical cases."
That announcement was "a formal and direct response" to a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit that upheld FERC's decision to issue a certificate to the Atlantic Sunrise expansion, according to ClearView Energy Partners LLC. Judge Pamela Millett found an "imbalance" arose from FERC's administration of its rehearing process and use of tolling orders.
"In our view, faster action on rehearing requests on pipeline certificates could meaningfully increase the possibility of stay requests succeeding pending judicial review when parties opposed to a project have a strong appeal on the merits," ClearView said in a note to clients.
Finally, Chatterjee said FERC has revamped its website to improve accessibility to information about the review process for landowners.
"Historically, information about the review process and how landowners can engage with FERC or participate in the process has been scattered across FERC's website, but difficult to locate. To improve accessibility, we now have an updated FERC.gov homepage, including a prominent button labeled specifically for landowners affected by natural gas projects. This button takes affected landowners to a new webpage with the information that's most relevant to them. It provides common landowner inquiry information condensed in one location,” with frequently asked questions and links to more detailed information.