Dear Senator Sanders and Senator Warren,
(other senators will be substituted here for their individualized letters)
In your capacity as members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources we ask you to please formally request that the Government Accountability Office conduct an official investigation into the operations of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) has become a demonstrably biased agency that has become a partner with, rather than a regulator of, the pipeline companies it purports to oversee. In addition, FERC is misusing legal loopholes and ignoring court orders to advance gas infrastructure projects while preventing the public from exercising their rights to judicial review or fair public participation in the process. License for FERC’s abuse of power and blatant bias is provided by the agency’s funding mechanism which makes it an agency funded 100% by the industry it regulates, and is advanced by the revolving employee door that exists between FERC and its regulated community.
There are four key areas that we think are particularly ripe for GAO consideration:
I. The funding mechanism which results in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission being 100% funded by the industry it regulates has resulted in blatant bias in favor of pipeline companies and against the public In 30 years, FERC has denied only one pipeline project, that denial only happened on March 11 of this year. Up until March 11, FERC had a 100% approval rating for all projects brought before its commissioners. While the March 11 denial of the Jordan Cove LNG export facility and the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline was welcome news, it was based on an extreme set of circumstances and does not change the underlying problem with FERC, which is that it is an immensely biased government agency that acts as a rubber stamp for the very companies it is supposed to regulate. FERC’s denial was based on an extreme circumstance whereby the pipeline company and LNG export company involved had failed to demonstrate they had a single customer for their proposed operations if built. Notably, the decision included no consideration of environmental impacts and only discussed landowner impacts in the context of the interconnected projects for which there had been no demonstration of customers.
II. The revolving door between employment with FERC and the industry it regulates contributes to agency bias in the project review and certification process, the unjustifiably high approval rate of proposed projects, and the lack of oversight and enforcement for FERC approved pipeline projects.
III. FERC abuses of law that deny the public their legal rights:
a) use of “tolling orders” to allow projects to advance while denying citizens the ability to initiate an appeal in court;
b) granting permission for pipeline companies to begin construction activity prior to the company securing all necessary permits and approvals;
c) continued use of segmentation and the failure to undertake cumulative impact environmental reviews in clear violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), and in disregard of a July 2014 court order and opinion from the D.C. Circuit;
d) failure to comply with the requirements of NEPA, and instead using subjective judgment to pre-determine the level of environmental review for proposed projects.
IV. Allowing the taking of public and private land via eminent domain for projects that are for private benefit as opposed to a public purpose.
It is time that Congress and the public secure an independent investigation of FERC to identify necessary reforms. Please help us by asking the Government Accountability Office to conduct an independent investigation into the funding of, and operations of, FERC when it comes to its review and approvals of natural gas pipeline infrastructure and LNG export facility proposals.