Declaring FERC a 'Rubber Stamp for Industry,' Campaigners Disrupt Senate Hearing

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Declaring FERC a 'Rubber Stamp for Industry,' Campaigners Disrupt Senate Hearing

Regulatory agency has a record of "ignoring and dismissing community and climate concerns" and is likely to get worse under Trump

Capitol Hill police carry one of the five protesters from the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on President Donald Trump's FERC nominees on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Beyond Extreme Energy)

Capitol Hill police carry one of the five protesters from the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on President Donald Trump's FERC nominees on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Beyond Extreme Energy)

Decrying the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as nothing but a "rubber stamp" for industry, a number of activists disrupted a Senate energy committee hearing Thursday on President Donald Trump's FERC nominees.

"FERC'in nuts" was how E&E News reporter Hannah Northey described the scene on Capitol Hill Thursday morning, as an estimated five people were removed from the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing.

According to reports, one woman was dragged from the hearing by security yelling: "FERC hurts families! Shut FERC down!" Another disrupter tied himself to his chair.

The activists were there representing a coalition of more than 160 organizations that oppose Trump's nominees to the agency which oversees the permitting process for fracked-gas pipelines and other fossil fuel industry infrastructure. Those groups have expressed frustration over FERC's record of "ignor[ing] and dismiss[ing] community and climate concerns when review industry permits" and said that things are likely to "get worse" under Trump.

"Their message is simple," said the organization Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE), "Until Congress investigates the agency's abuses of power and law, the Senate must not approve new FERC commissioners."

"FERC is an arm of the oil and gas industries," added Lee Stewart, an organizer with BXE and one of those arrested Thursday. "Their rubber-stamping of fracked gas permits disregards the harms such projects inflict on communities, towns, and the climate. Because of the great violence FERC inflicts on the world, it's important to do everything possible to stop or delay them. Until FERC is replaced with an agency dedicated to a just transition off fossil fuels and to an exploitation-free energy system based on localized, renewable energy, business as usual is unacceptable."

What's more, Trump has nominated Robert Powelson and Neil Chatterjee, who are likely to be "more reliable rubber stamps for the gas industry," according to climate group Oil Change International (OCI): 

Powelson, who sits on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, is an open cheerleader of fracking and accused people trying to protect their land from gas pipelines of engaging in "jihad." Chatterjee, meanwhile, has been Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's right-hand man in attacking climate policies like the Clean Power Plan and in trying to ram through approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

David Turnbull, campaigns director at OCI, said Thursday that the senate hearing only further demonstrated Congress's commitment to polluting fossil fuels.

"Today, Senators showed their preference for FERC remaining a rubber stamp for their pet projects back home," Turnbull said. "And unsurprisingly, Chatterjee and Powelson both showed that they're game to play along. While renewable energy was discussed, many Senators preferred to do the bidding of interests in their states pushing nuclear power, [liquid natural gas] export, and other natural gas infrastructure."

Further, Turnbull noted that "[n]either nominee expressed any serious concern for the climate or for communities being harmed by FERC's virtually indiscriminate approval of dangerous gas pipelines. Both Powelson and Chatterjee have track records that are antithetical to the reform that's urgently needed at FERC to stop pro-gas bias and square permitting processes with scientific and economic reality. Ultimately, senators should reject these nominees."

"Meanwhile," he added, "concerned citizens expressing their deep reservations with the work of this Commission were thrown out of the room one by one. A fitting metaphor if there ever was one."

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