A lawmaker serving on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform is questioning FERC over its protections for landowners impacted by natural gas pipeline construction.
In a letter late last week to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman James Danly, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), chair of the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties subcommittee, asked the agency to provide information about its procedures to “resolve conflicts between landowners and natural gas pipeline construction companies.”
Raskin specifically raised questions relating to certificate extensions, restoration delays, dispute resolution and “disposition of property for canceled projects.”
Citing the recent two-year extension granted to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, necessary in large part because of legal challenges brought by project opponents, Raskin suggested that extending the time frame for pipelines to complete construction “prolongs landowners’ suffering and lack of access to their full property.”
Along similar lines, Raskin said landowners have reached out to his office complaining of delays in finalizing restoration of their property following pipeline construction.
While FERC has a Dispute Resolution Service in place, “several advocates and landowners” have said it is “insufficient and does not aid in resolving disputes,” Raskin wrote.
Raskin also probed for information on what happens to land taken by eminent domain for a project that is later canceled, using the Atlantic Coast Pipeline as a recent example.
“There appears to be no process to ensure that this land reverts back to the property owner, or that the land is not used for an entirely different purpose than the one approved by FERC and accepted by the courts in eminent domain proceedings,” the lawmaker wrote.
Raskin asked FERC to respond to a list of questions on these topics by Dec. 4.
The letter is not the first time Raskin has taken an interest in regulatory oversight of natural gas pipeline construction.
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In February, Raskin’s subcommittee launched an investigation into the use of eminent domain for gas pipelines. The preliminary findings published in April that took a harsh view of FERC’s handling of landowner rights.
“The deck is totally stacked against landowners who want to defend their family’s land against takeover by private natural gas companies,” Raskin said at the time. “It’s not a fair process. FERC habitually delays its administrative duties to respond to landowner requests so long that those landowners have no opportunity to have their voices heard.”
Facing criticism over its use of tolling orders, a procedural move to provide more time for rehearing reviews but that also had the effect of delaying court challenges of pipeline projects, FERC began taking steps toward reform earlier this year.
The Commission issued an “instant final rule” in June designed to ensure construction of approved natural gas projects cannot proceed until FERC acts on any requests for rehearings.
About a month later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that FERC’s use of tolling orders was not consistent with federal statute.
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