In FERC’s first open meeting since it adopted a rule to rein in show-stopping protests — and her last meeting as chairman — Cheryl LaFleur on Thursday was forced to clear the room before the meeting even began when demonstrators began shouting their opposition to an issue not on the agenda.

“We’re going to clear the room; we’ll resume in a minute,” LaFleur said as protesters stood chanting “stop construction at Cove Point,” a liquefied natural gas export project previously approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission but challenged by environmental groups (see Shale Daily, Dec. 30, 2014). The meeting was brought to order about three minutes later and there were no further incidents.

Earlier this month, FERC adopted a rule, based on language already in use by other federal agencies, specifying “the roles available to the public at the Commission’s open meetings” (see Daily GPI, March 11). Previously, FERC regulations had said that members of the public were “invited to listen and observe at open meetings.” The rule utilizes language from Federal Communication Commission and Rural Telephone Bank open meeting regulations “to clarify that the term ‘observe’ does not include disruptive behavior.”

“The Commission is concerned about the impact of public disruptions on its ability to conduct open meetings,” according to the rule. “To ensure compliance with the government in the Sunshine Act, it is essential that the Commission’s open meetings focus on the items listed in the posted agenda. Members of the public do not have a right to disrupt open meetings or to raise extraneous issues.”

The meeting, the last that is scheduled during LaFleur’s tenure as chairman, ended with her receiving a prolonged standing ovation from commissioners and FERC staff. Her term as chairman continues until just before FERC’s April 16 open meeting, which will be led by incoming Chairman Norman Bay.

Bay, whose nomination was pressed by the Obama administration despite opposition from Republicans, was sworn in at FERC last year (see Daily GPI, Aug. 4, 2014); he is slated to take over as chairman by virtue of a political deal made during the vote on his confirmation (see Daily GPI, July 15, 2014). LaFleur is scheduled to remain as a commissioner until 2019.