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People’s Dossier of FERC Abuses: Staff Conflicts of Interest

Conflicts of Interest Color, Undermine, and Invalidate FERC Pipeline Decisionmaking

(Download printable copy of “People’s Dossier of FERC Abuses: Staff Conflicts of Interest with attachments” here)

There Exists an Employee Revolving Door Between FERC and the Fracking Industry

The revolving door between FERC employees and industry includes agency staff up to the Commissioner level. This revolving door shapes how FERC employees view issues generally, affects the overall mindset of the agency, and creates bias. In 2014, according to press reports there were over forty instances of FERC employees, including its Commissioners, seeking multiple opportunities with grid operators, law firms and utilities that the agency regulates. (Attch 6)

Current FERC employees are able to begin negotiations with the industry for employment while still on the FERC payroll. This clearly enhances the incentive to engage in favorable agency decision-making biased towards the industry and against the public as employees try to advance their chances of securing a more lucrative and powerful position. Examples of conflict arising from this scenario include:

  • Former FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller left his post at FERC to work in Washington D.C. as the Senior Vice President of Edison Electric Institute, one of the top lobbying firms for electric utilities, (Attch 7) and as the Non-Executive Director of Liquefied Natural Gas Limited. (Attch 8)
  • Larry Gasteiger, former chief of staff at FERC, left the agency to work as the chief of federal regulatory policy at Public Service Enterprise Group, a major New Jersey utility company. (Attch 5)
  • Pat Wood, a former FERC Chairman, became chairman of the board at Dynegy, a natural gas and coal power generating firm. (Attch 15)
  • Michael Yuffee, a former attorney-advisor in FERC’s Office of Administrative Law Judges, left the Agency for the law firm representing developers of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, Norton Rose Fulbright LLP. (Attch 4)
  • Mason Emnett, deputy director of FERC’s Office of Energy Policy and Innovation, “left the agency after almost eight years … to take a position as a senior attorney for NextEra Energy Inc.” (Attch 6)

The increased access resulting from the revolving door benefits the industry within the halls of FERC – the only question is what form, and to what degree, this bias manifests itself.

Several documents demonstrate the ease with which former FERC Commissioners, former attorneys, the former Director of Pipeline Certificates, and other former employees arrange meetings with and otherwise access current FERC Commissioners and employees. For example, Former Commissioner Suedeen Kelly frequently and colloquially communicates with current FERC Commissioners on behalf of her client, Spectra Energy (Attch 13), and former Deputy Director of the Office of Energy Projects and former Director of Pipeline Certificates Berne Mosley does the same regarding the Atlantic Coast Pipeline Project. (Attch 12)

Self-Interest Compounds Concerns Regarding FERC’s Decision Making Process

FERC employees, including Commissioners, are known to decide on projects that serve their own financial self-interest.  

For example, as reported by Desmog Blog;

During former Commissioner Philip Moeller’s nearly ten-year tenure with FERC, “Moeller’s wife was employed as a lawyer and lobbyist for the Washington, DC-based firm Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw & Pittman LLP…the Commission’s counsel repeatedly authorized Moeller to rule on matters concerning companies represented by his wife or others at Pillsbury Winthrop” (emphasis added). While Philip Moeller had secured a waiver from a FERC Ethics Official, the inappropriate bias and self-dealing cannot be said to have been remedied by those steps. One such example of how this benefit played out is as follows: In 2010, Ms. Moeller began lobbying for a company that held agreements to drill for natural gas in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale. Soon thereafter, her husband and the Commission approved a number of new natural gas projects in the Northeast that would carry fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale, such as Spectra’s Texas Eastern Appalachia to Market project and New Jersey-New York Expansion project. (Attch 14)

Other examples of self-dealing by FERC officials include:

The hiring of former FERC Outreach Manager of the Office of Energy Projects, Douglas Sipe, by an engineering firm with a $1.8 million stake in the Spectra Energy Pipeline Project. Mr. Sipe served as the Environmental Project Manager for the project while at FERC. (Attch 2)

Maggie Suter, a FERC official tasked with reviewing the Cove Point and Atlantic Bridge projects, is married to Phil Suter, a paid consultant for a related project, Access Northeast.When Mrs. Suter told her supervisors at FERC of the potential conflict, she was allowed to remain in her role of reviewing the two projects. (Attch 13)

It is clear from these examples that FERC and its employees are not acting as unbiased professionals during the fracking infrastructure approval process, but instead are making licensing and approval decisions based on existing industry relationships and their own personal and/or financial self-interests.

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