The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, attacked by a public interest group for paying too much attention to LNG project sponsors, came out swinging Thursday against the “nimbyism” behind the group’s report, saying “the article glosses over the economic imperative for LNG imports.”

In advancing the LNG projects, “FERC is just doing its job of protecting the public interest in providing safe, affordable, abundant natural gas supplies,” FERC spokesman Bryan Lee continued.

The press release by the Center for Public Integrity issued Tuesday said the Commission was “aggressively” pushing its authority to approve LNG receiving terminals over the objections of state and local officials, and cited private meetings of commissioners with LNG sponsors which “indicate an extremely close relationship between the Commission and the industry it regulates.”

The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) said that through Freedom of Information Act requests it had reviewed documents showing the four current commissioners had met privately 83 times over the past three years with major oil companies and others that sponsor LNG projects, while meeting LNG project opponents far fewer times. The group did not have specific information as to how many times commissioners met with opponents of LNG projects.

“This whole article is nothing but character assassination by inference and innuendo,” Lee said. “Meeting with regulated entities is an important part of FERC’s job.” He noted the inflationary aspects of tighter gas supplies and prices, saying that in pursuing additional supplies the Commission was acting “in the larger public interest, not just local interest. This criticism continues down the path of vocal local attempts to override the larger public interest.”

Lee pointed out that many of the companies have other projects besides LNG, and more than half the meetings had nothing to do with LNG. In fact, “one of the meetings with the chairman was his dermatologist.”

CPI insinuated “industry access seems to be paying off,” since the Commission has approved a California project despite state and local opposition. Also, the commissioners have made speeches indicating their support for LNG to augment declining domestic supplies.

The group also pointed to a bill expected to be introduced early in the next session of Congress that “would cement in law the regulatory agency’s role as the sole authority over LNG terminals,” further undermining state and local authority, and alluded to the influence of LNG sponsors through campaign contributions to the Congress.

In its lengthy and broadly scattered diatribe against LNG, CPI accused industry of choosing small towns for its sites in order to minimize opposition. “I think it is no accident that the industry has chosen places like Fall River, MA, which tend to be lower-income, working class communities where they don’t expect educated opposition,” CPI quoted Mayor Ed Lambert as saying. The New England town has tried to prevent a proposed LNG terminal from being built inside its city limits.

CPI said it had filed suit against FERC last Monday because the agency had refused Freedom of Information Act requests for materials regarding the Weaver’s Cove LNG project. The materials were withheld for security reasons because they contained critical infrastructure information, FERC said.

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