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Hebert: FERC Not the 'Happiness Commission'

Hebert: FERC Not the 'Happiness Commission'

If environmental groups and landowners somehow got the idea that through their increased activities at FERC their influence was growing, perhaps they should think again.

"FERC is not the happiness Commission," FERC Commissioner Curt Hebert reminded attendees last week at the Natural Gas Roundtable in Washington, D.C. "We can't make everybody happy. It's just not possible," he said.

"What I would love to see and what would make us a better Commission is that we understand that we are an economic agency and we have to let economic efficiencies be our sail that takes us in the right direction."

He expressed concern at what he called the Commission's "growing tendency to try to make everyone happy." Hebert, a former legislator and regulator in Mississippi, said he's seen it before. "Ultimately what we do is we fail to make anyone happy because people get drawn out by the process and they think it is an indecisive process." He said the Commission shouldn't waste time giving certain intevenors in expansions or new construction projects "false hope" by delaying an inevitable certificate.

That is becoming more difficult not only because of the increasing number of pipeline expansions but also because of a large increase in interventions. Interventions at FERC on environmental issues of expansion projects have grown exponentially in the 1990s. In the Kern River-Mojave expansion project there were 200 interventions on environmental issues. With the Iroquois Pipeline project in 1991, interventions on environmental issues rose to 500, and in the current Independence Pipeline project docket there are at least 4,500 intervenors.

Hebert assured attendees he's not a "wacked out right winger who doesn't believe in environmental concerns," but if "we can take all the money that has been spent on delays to approvals and put those on worthwhile projects, that's something I would like to see.

"I'm not saying the interests of environmentalists and landowners are not worth while or instructive. What I am saying is as regulators we need to work to balance the interests of all those involved.. It's important that we understand that different groups are weighted differently." Advocacy groups carry very little weight compared with public service commissions, which balance opposing views, he said. "I don't think it takes a mental giant to figure out who we should weight more."

With numerous pipeline expansions awaiting Commission approval, Hebert said his fellow commissioners must make sure the business decisions of parties who build and pay for new projects are not being "questioned and second-guessed."

Rocco Canonica

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