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Climate Emergency Sign

A protester holds a sign at a rally in midtown Manhattan on March 3, 2021. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

With Planet's Future at Stake, Biden Told to Be Bold With Pick for Top Energy Post

"It's time to treat climate change like the emergency it is, and stop approving new fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure, reads a letter signed by over 300 climate-focused groups.

Jessica Corbett

Over 320 advocacy organizations on Wednesday sent President Joe Biden a letter about his upcoming selection of a key federal regulatory official, which could be among the most monumental decisions he makes to address the climate emergency.

"We need a strong climate advocate on FERC helping to steer the commission away from its past as a rubber stamp for the fossil fuel industry."
—Mitch Jones, Food & Water Watch

The groups—led by Berks Gas Truth, Beyond Extreme Energy, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and Food & Water Watch—were writing (pdf) about his replacement for Neil Chatterjee, a Republican leaving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) at the end of the month.

"History may record that President Biden's 2021 appointment of a strong climate champion to be a FERC commissioner was one of the most consequential actions he took to slow, stop and reverse global heating over the course of the 21st century," said Ted Glick of Beyond Extreme Energy in a statement Wednesday.

"History may also record that humankind failed this urgent, existential test in part because Biden didn't do so," he warned. "This is the importance of this nomination."

In addition to regulating the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil, FERC reviews proposals to build certain energy infrastructure. Citing expert warnings about the necessity of ceasing global reliance on fossil fuels to avert climate catastrophe, the letter argues that Biden must pick a climate-focused appointee who will block such projects.

"It's time to treat climate change like the emergency it is, and stop approving new fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure, and facilitate renewable energy gaining access to the grid," says the letter, which references a recent report from the International Energy Agency.

"This FERC appointment will be instrumental in helping to fulfill your commitment to addressing this crisis," the letter adds. "We urge you to appoint a new commissioner committed to following climate science, stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure, and transitioning the country to 100% renewable energy."

The groups highlight FERC's power to "approve or deny permits for new fracked gas pipelines and export facilities," as well as its history of facilitating "the development of fossil fuel infrastructure without regard for the impacts these projects will have on planet-warming emissions" while also creating "roadblocks for clean energy providers to sell power on the capacity markets."

The letter comes a day after a federal appeals court panel unanimously threw out FERC's approval of a now-operational pipeline in Missouri. Reuters reports that the decision was "a rare victory against the regulator by environmentalists who sued."

In a statement about the message to Biden on Wednesday, Food & Water Watch policy director Mitch Jones declared that "we need a strong climate advocate on FERC helping to steer the commission away from its past as a rubber stamp for the fossil fuel industry, and towards supporting a robust expansion of renewable energy."

Other advocates also took aim at the agency's track record on climate.

"Biden has a golden opportunity to install a qualified climate champion to build the clean and resilient electricity grid the U.S. so desperately needs."
—Donna Chavis, FOE

"FERC needs to change course by recognizing the direct connection between fossil fuel infrastructure projects and the proliferation of greenhouse gas emissions and factor these impacts into all its decisions by halting projects that worsen the climate crisis," said Maya van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

Donna Chavis, senior climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth (FOE) U.S.—which also signed the letter—charged that "FERC has failed to drive the transition to renewables for too long."

"Biden has a golden opportunity to install a qualified climate champion to build the clean and resilient electricity grid the U.S. so desperately needs," she said.

The advocates pointed to the president's promises to tackle the climate emergency, and listen to the scientists and other experts about how to do so.

"Biden correctly calls climate change the 'existential crisis of our time," said Karen Feridun, founder of Berks Gas Truth. "Only bold actions commensurate with challenges we face will do now."

"Biden appointees must be leaders capable of carrying out those actions," she asserted. "That is especially true at FERC, where generations of commissioners have taken a pro-fossil fuels stance that has set us back immeasurably."

Naomi Yoder, staff scientist at Healthy Gulf, emphasized that environmental justice communities will be particularly affected if FERC continues to greenlight fossil fuel development.

“There's no time like the present for the FERC and the president to act to defend the Gulf of Mexico coast, where dozens of fossil gas export terminals and pipelines loom and threaten our communities and ecosystems," said Yoder.

"In the name of the pitcher-plant bogs and alligators, in the name of the culture bearers and subsistence fishing communities, on behalf of all those who will be affected by FERC continuing to ignore the climate crisis," she said, "we implore the president to appoint a climate justice champion to FERC."


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