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People’s Dossier of FERC Abuses: Lack of Public Assistance

FERC Minimizes Assistance to the Public While Providing Robust Access and Assistance to the Pipeline Industry

(Download a printable copy of “People’s Dossier of FERC Abuses: Lack of Public Assistance” with Attachments)

While not legally required to do so, it is notable that FERC has never made any effort to fund a Congressionally authorized Office of Public Participation to help the public navigate the difficult, complex, and highly technical pipeline review and approval process that so dramatically impacts and harms their lives, communities, and the environment. In contrast to this refusal by the agency to assist the Public, FERC regularly holds educational seminars and events with industry allowing for easy access to FERC commissioners and staff.   

Congress established an Office of Public Participation (“Office”) at FERC as part of the 1978 Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act. (16 U.S.C. § 825q–1).  In creating this Office, Congress recognized that effectively participating in FERC proceedings is especially challenging for individuals, homeowners associations, non-profit organizations, local government bodies, and consumer protection organizations because the highly technical nature of FERC dockets requires significant specialization and costly resources often unavailable to non-industry related parties. Among the Office’s responsibilities would be to help “coordinate assistance to the public” on Commission dockets, and the Office may “provide compensation for reasonable attorney’s fees, expert witness fees, and other costs of intervening” for the public. (16 U.S.C. § 825q-1(b) (1-2)). FERC has never created this Office.

The pipeline industry enjoys vast advantages and virtually open access in navigating FERC’s review and approval process in comparison to the public—not only are they able to communicate regularly with FERC staff regarding their projects from as early as the pre-filing stages, they enjoy the benefits of the employee revolving door and regular trainings offered by FERC for their benefit. FERC’s online calendar details various industry seminars, such as the one held March 7, 2017, described as a “three day interactive seminar [that] will include how to successfully navigate the FERC environmental review process and to prepare an Environmental Report, a brief introduction to pipeline construction for industry newcomers, a discussion of pre-construction preparation considerations, and a review of baseline mitigation measures for pipeline construction and restoration.” (Attch 1)  In addition, the industry has far greater resources in order to engage with FERC and to use the process to their full power and advantage.

Not only does FERC fail to educate the general public regarding the pipeline permitting process, the Agency completely ignores the public’s requests for help. For example, citizens interested in participating in the Mountain Valley Pipeline process (FERC Docket No. PF15-3) repeatedly, and formally, sought help on issues ranging from the Agency’s definition of “public interest” to how the Agency resolves conflicting expert reports. Despite multiple requests for assistance, none was given. (Attch 2)

Despite the clear need for the Office of Public Participation, FERC has never requested nor allocated any funds for this Office, even though fully funding the office would constitute less than 2 percent of FERC’s budget. As such, this Office exists only in theory; individuals, families, communities, and organizations faced with the significant impacts of a pipeline project and faced with the high complexity and cost of properly reviewing and/or challenging a project when the need arises have never received the appropriate, needed or congressionally envisioned assistance from FERC.

FERC’s failure to fund the Office of Public Participation reflects FERC’s lack of institutional interest in cultivating a balanced, fair, and impartial review and approval process for natural gas pipeline projects.

Complete People’s Dossier: FERC’s Abuses of Power and Law 
available here.