FERC commissioners Wednesday finalized revisions to rules foroff-the-record communications between commissioners and key staffand persons outside the Commission. Chairman James Hoecker saidthe rule provides a balance that “will supply the clarity andprecision we need. They should facilitate better access toinformation 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, which was not available at presstime, includes a number of examples of permitted and prohibitedcommunications to serve as guidelines and clarify where theboundaries are.

In other Commission news yesterday, a new “collaborative filingprocess” was approved giving pipelines the option of engaging in avoluntary collaborative process with the public and Commissionstaff before filing an application for a certificate to constructor abandon new facilities. “The goal is to improve communication,expand public participation and resolve potential conflicts earlierin the filing process.” Applicants would notify the Commission, thepublic, including landowners, and state and local governmentofficials of their intention to start pre-filing consultations.Pipeline sponsors also would have the option of working withCommission staff and other interested parties on advanceenvironmental studies. The voluntary collaborative process for gaspipelines is comparable to voluntary procedures adopted by FERC in1997 for hydroelectric licenses.

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