The last week is totally unlike any that I have experienced as a climate/climate justice activist and organizer in the 17 years I have had this issue as my main focus of social change work. All of a sudden, there have been four major victories here in the US.
The week began last Tuesday, June 30, with a huge, resounding defeat for FERC. The DC US Court of Appeals, by a 10-1 vote, ruled that FERC’s maddening, “Kafkaesque” (in the words of the court decision) practice of tolling was illegal.
What is "tolling?"
Under the regulations FERC follows, after they decide to give a permit for expansion of gas infrastructure to a pipeline or other company, those opposed to that expansion need to file an appeal of that decision with FERC before they can go to court to challenge it. FERC then needs to respond to that appeal within 30 days, by law. So what FERC has been doing for at least a decade is to respond on that 30th day, ruling that they need more time to make a decision. Sometimes it takes them 15 months to make that decision, but more insidious, they often allow companies to use eminent domain to take land and to begin construction while they are deciding. There are instances where, by the time FERC makes its decision, the pipeline, compressor station and/or other gas infrastructure is up and running. And guess what else? They ALWAYS decide not to overturn their initial decision!
Why did it take the courts so long to finally outlaw this obscene FERC practice? Good question! But I guess the bittersweet truth is that “good things come to those who wait” and keep fighting.
The second big thing happened two days later, when former Mitch McConnell staffer and FERC chairperson Neil Chatterjee, who has been doing all he can with his two fellow Trump-appointed Republican commissioners to move FERC backwards into the 20th century as far as energy policy, joined with the sole Democratic commissioner, Richard Glick, to issue an unprecedented public statement. The statement called upon Congress to enact legislation to give direction to how FERC should now handle this issue. Significantly, they went on to say that, “we believe that any such legislation should make clear that, while rehearing requests [by groups fighting expansion of gas infrastructure] are pending, the Commission [FERC] should be prohibited from issuing a notice to proceed with construction, and no entity should be able to begin eminent domain proceedings involving the projects addressed in the orders subject to those rehearing requests.”
Yes!! Another blow to the frackers!
Then on Sunday, July 5th, fossil fuelers Dominion and Duke announced that, after six years of trying to build it, they were abandoning their plans to build the 600 mile long Atlantic Coast Pipeline, planned to begin in West Virginia, go through Virginia into North Carolina, and then probably into South Carolina. Why did they make this decision? One reason was all of the on-the-ground resistance up and down the route of the pipeline from landowners, churches, community groups, direct action fighters, environmentalists, local and state elected officials and more. Another was the numerous lawsuits from various groups that have prevented any construction for at least a year. Then there was the press coverage month after month, from blogs and social media videos to local newspapers up to national media. The final straw may have been the drying up of bank financing for the very-deeply-in-debt fracked gas industry as a whole and the significant economic hit the fossil fuel industry has taken because of the pandemic.
Congratulations ACP fighters!!
And finally, at least for this past week, there was the announcement yesterday of the amazing decision by a federal judge ruling in favor of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe lawsuit against the Dakota Access Pipeline. That judge, who has been dealing with the case for over three years, ruled that Energy Transfer Partners must shut down that pipeline within a month and go through the process of doing a new Environmental Impact Statement, this time one that isn’t full of lies and half-truths, which it is projected will take at least a year, probably more. If Trump is gone, the odds are good that the people, organized, will make sure a President Biden does the right thing and prevents this pipeline from going into operation.
Why all of these very big victories right now? I suppose the most likely explanation is that it was just a coincidence. But I think there’s more to it. This historic week happened during an historic Black Lives Matter uprising that has seen more people taking part in more, and more broadly-spread demonstrations, against racism and injustice than ever in this country, and that political uprising isn’t over! It makes sense that this fresh and hopeful wind of change sweeping across Turtle Island is impacting some of those who have some power, like federal judges, and unnerving the “them” in “them and us.”
That’s what happens in revolutions. New people step forward, motivated by the actions of others and drawing upon the best within them to stand up and take action for what is right. May more and more of us join this so-desperately-needed political and cultural revolution and keep the victories coming. Let’s seize the time!