Although the use of the pre-filing collaborative process inhydroelectric relicensing cases is still “too new” to determinewhether it would also work for gas pipeline projects, theDepartment of Interior says its supports FERC efforts to promote”pre-filing communications and consultations” with the agency andother stakeholders in the gas arena. However, it agreed withinterstate gas pipelines that participation in the collaborativeprocess should not be mandated.

“…[W]e do not believe the Commission can or should compelparticipation in either the proposed collaborative process fornatural gas or the alternative pre-filing process for hydroelectricprojects,” the department said in a filing at FERC. “Whenparticipation is forced, the development of consensus is difficult.A collaborative process substantially relies on the development oftrust and mutual understanding in an atmosphere where candid viewsshould be encouraged. These attitudes cannot be compelled.”

Interior’s comments were in response to the Commission’s noticeof proposed rulemaking (NOPR), which would require gas pipelinesand other regulated energy sectors to use collaborative proceduresto resolve significant issues prior to filing project applicationsat FERC [RM98-16]. FERC believes the use of collaboratives couldhelp to speed up the ceritificate process. They already are beingused with some success in hydroelectric relicensing proceedings.

“We do recommend…that the Commission mandate that allapplicants (in both natural gas and hydroelectric proceedings) makegood-faith efforts to communicate and consult with stakeholders,whether the collaborative pre-filing process is chosen or not,”Interior said. It believes that a “general mandate” encouraging the”investment of time and money in up-front coordination withagencies and other stakeholders” is something that FERC shouldpromote strongly.

Separately, the agency doesn’t think it would be appropriate forFERC staff to issue draft National Environmental Policy Actdocuments (such as a draft environmental impact statement) on aproposed project in advance of the filing of an application, orallow the collaborative team to be involved in the drafting of adraft EIS or a preliminary draft of a final EIS. “…[I]t is stillthe Commission’s responsibility to independently evaluate theinformation submitted [by the applicant], and the Commission isresponsible for its accuracy, its scope and content,” Interiorsaid.

Susan Parker

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