Hebert Says FERC is Attacking the Case Backlog

FERC Chairman Curt Hebert, a former chairman of the Mississippi Public Service Commission, assured state regulators last week at NARUC's winter committee meetings in Washington, D.C., that the Commission will focus intently on clearing the backlog of 2,000 cases clogging up the corridors at 888 First Street NE. He attributed the backlog mainly to the Commission's attention to California's energy crisis.

"Just last week at only the second agenda on my watch the Commission staff prepared over 100 items for the Commission vote, a number not seen in many years at the FERC," said Hebert. "We intend to continue that pace while at the same time addressing a compelling backlog of orders that developed previously of some 2,000 cases.

"Some people don't understand that while we are focusing great attention and giving great resources to the California crisis --- and let me make it clear it is something we are looking over in the entire Northwest and West --- we have spent less time with other matters. I know there are 50 states in America, and we plan to work with each and every one of them. By focusing our attentions on California we have had difficulty trying to move forward and get things done in other areas, hence the 2,000 backlog."

Hebert said he assigned six lawyers at FERC to be "terminators" and deal with the backlog. "It always aggravated me that the FERC stood in my way [when I was a state regulatory] and would not let me do what was in the best interests of the good people of the state of Mississippi... I think you deserve your day in court and I think you deserve your day at the FERC.. We're really going to try and push politics aside and give you a decision. We're committed to ensuring that this backlog of cases will be quickly resolved."

Hebert also stressed the need for cooperation between state and federal regulators in this time of national energy crisis. "We sink or swim together," he said.

"It's no small matter that it's anticipated that consumers will pay 45% more per Mcf this winter and that total winter heating bills will be about 75% higher than last winter. Already we've seen the impact of these price increases in our economy. Last month the record 17.4% increase in the price of natural gas reflected largely in the 0.6% increase in the January consumer price index, the largest price increase in 10 months."

Hebert said his view on the current gas market situation is that it is beginning to "correct itself in a market appropriate manner."

Although recent events in California seem to have "shaken the faith of some and the commitment of some to competitive markets," Hebert stands steady in his devotion to competitive markets.

"You have signed up for the toughest contract of your life," he told regulators. "Being a federal and state regulator 20 years ago was very different. It's not going to be easy. I commit to you not to make political decisions. I commit to you to help keep the lights on. I just ask you to commit to me as well the same thing. If we do this together, communicate and share ideas we can make this work."

Rocco Canonica

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