FERC commissioners last week finalized revisions to rules foroff-the-record communications between commissioners and key staffand persons outside the Commission. Chairman James Hoecker said thenew rule (Order No. 607) provides a balance that “will supply theclarity and precision we need. They should facilitate better accessto information while ensuring the integrity of our processes.”

Off-the-record communications are prohibited in contestedproceedings unless they come under seven exemptions set out in thenew rule. The exemptions include communications between FERC andother regulatory agencies with shared jurisdictions who are notparties to proceedings under discussion, communications relating toenvironmental document preparation, and communications withindividual non-party landowners. These communications, however,must be included in the record and available to other parties.

Hoecker said the final rule includes a number of examples ofpermitted and prohibited communications to serve as guidelines andclarify where the boundaries are.

In other Commission news last week, a new “collaborative filingprocess” (Order No. 608) was approved giving pipelines the optionof engaging in a voluntary collaborative process with the publicand Commission staff before filing an application for a certificateto construct or abandon new facilities. “The goal is to improvecommunication, expand public participation and resolve potentialconflicts earlier in the filing process.” Applicants would notifythe Commission, the public, including landowners, and state andlocal government officials of their intention to start pre-filingconsultations. Pipeline sponsors also would have the option ofworking with Commission staff and other interested parties onadvance environmental studies. The voluntary collaborative processfor gas pipelines is comparable to voluntary procedures adopted byFERC in 1997 for hydroelectric licenses.