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Complaints Put on the Fast Track at FERC

Complaints Put on the Fast Track at FERC

FERC has unveiled its long-awaited final rule on expedited complaint procedures, the focus of which is its fast-track process for resolving industry disputes within 20 to 60 days after an initial complaint is filed. The Commission voted out the order notationally late Wednesday.

The fast-track procedures aren't meant to replace the standard procedures for resolving complaints at the Commission, but rather are intended to complement them, according to FERC. To get a case on the fast track, a complainant must make "a highly credible claim and a persuasive showing that the standard complaint process will not provide meaningful relief," Commissioner William Massey said.

If such a showing is made, the Commission will issue a procedural order (on how it intends to process the complaint) "if necessary within 2 to 3 days after [an] answer" to the complaint is filed by the other party, he noted. And it will try to rule on the merits of a dispute within 20 days after a response has been submitted. The final rule requires that parties respond to complaints within 20 days of their filing. "I would have preferred that we make the fast track even faster by delegating to staff certain process decisions, but the majority did not agree."

In addition to the fast-track process, the final rule codifies FERC's current Enforcement Hotline procedures, brings FERC's current alternative dispute resolution (ADR) into conformance with the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996, offers ADR as one of the available paths for handling complaints, specifies in detail the information that must be included in complaints, and establishes a simplified procedure for resolving complaints that involve less than $100,000.

"We're much clearer than we ever have been about what the criteria are for accepting [a] complaint, [and] how quickly responses need to be filed. We make available various modes of resolution, including an innovative fast track process...There are a lot of new approaches in here-the use of ADR, real-time Commission decisions, expeditious hearing orders, [and] interim relief," which is "something I like especially because [it's] a small claims process" for settling disputes, said Chairman James Hoecker.

He further noted the Commission has set up an E-mail address for the Enforcement Hotline - hotline@ferc.fed.us - to aid industry. This is in addition to the phone number: (877) 303-4340. "We're plugged in and ready to roll," Hoecker said, adding that the Hotline has been effective as an alternative to filing formal complaints.

Both producers and pipelines reacted positively to the final complaint rule. Producers especially favored the fast-track procedures, codifying the Hotline, and the Commission's concept of providing interim relief to complainants, said Philip Budzik of the Natural Gas Supply Association.

"It's really encouraging" the Commission has issued a final rule because "a lot of other things depend on an expedited complaint process," such as negotiated terms and conditions, said Lorraine Cross, senior vice president of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA). She was encouraged the Commission codified its Hotline procedures-a position that the pipelines supported.

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