Coalition Demands Senate Block All New Nominations of Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioners

Posted June 14, 2017


Interview with Lee Stewart, organizer with Beyond Extreme Energy, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


One of the many climate change fights underway since the Trump administration took office, involves Trump’s nominations to fill vacancies on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. This is the government body responsible for approving all fracked gas infrastructure projects that transports gas from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and other states to the rest of the country, and for shipment abroad. In the past 30 years, FERC has rejected only one pipeline project, but the commission has been without a quorum since early February and it’s unable to approve new projects until Trump’s nominees are approved. His first two nominees are Neil Chatterjee, a top energy aide to GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Robert Powelson, a Pennsylvania energy regulator who has labeled the many opponents of fracked gas in his state, “jihadists.”

Last year, the FERC Vacancies Coalition came together to demand that no new commissioners be confirmed by the Senate until Congress conducts an investigation of FERC’s ethical and legal abuses in approving energy infrastructure projects. The coalition has conducted a range of activities, including civil disobedience disruptions at two meetings of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that resulted in seven arrests.

One of those arrested was Lee Stewart, an organizer with Beyond Extreme Energy, one of the leading groups in the coalition. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus, who volunteers with BXE, spoke with Stewart about the different elements of the campaign, and his hope for the future of US energy policy.

LEE STEWART: The FERC Vacancies Coalition is first and foremost demanding that our senators vote no on Trump’s two nominations to FERC until the Senate holds hearings into the abuses of power and law at FERC. So, you know, we’re really saying there should be no restoration of a quorum at FERC until FERC is investigated so that communities and the climate don’t continue to be hurt, which is the course FERC will take once the quorum is restored if we don’t do anything right now. What we’ve done is put together various actions, starting with call-in days, where we encourage members of the coalition to reach out to their members and ask them to call their senators and urge them to vote No on Trump’s nominations to FERC. And then the Senate went on recess, so we put out a call to action for people to visit their senators’ district offices and to meet in person with their senators or their staffers to make the same demand. And we did another call-in period and several Twitter storms where we’ve tweeted at senators with the same demands, and all of them have been very successful at getting our demands and our issues with FERC out there. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network in particular has done a really excellent job at documenting the many abuses of power and law at FERC.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Lee Stewart, can you give some examples of that abuse?

LEE STEWART: The abuses of power and law are many, but I can go over a few. First of all, in FERC’s 30 or 40 years of existence, they have only rejected one pipeline infrastructure project, despite the fact that there’s countless amounts of documentation showing how many of the projects that FERC approves are unneeded, how they’re harmful to the communities they’re going through, and how they impact the climate in a very, very negative way. Another thing is the fact that FERC receives their funding from the industry they supposedly regulate, and connected to that there’s a pretty strong revolving door between FERC and the oil and gas industries, whereby people who work in FERC, including commissioners, will come from the industries into FERC, and after leaving FERC will go back into the industry, so it creates this really close relationship that intertwines FERC and the oil and gas industries.

According to legislation passed by Congress, FERC is supposed to be energy-neutral, meaning they don’t favor any form of energy over another, they’re just supposed to let the market run smoothly, I guess, but of course their rubber stamp is favoring the oil and gas industry over renewable energies.

Also, this isn’t an abuse, but it’s something we need to acknowledge. At this point in time, when the impacts of climate change are known, energy neutrality – which FERC is mandated to be – is completely unethical at this time. We can’t be energy-neutral. We have to be actively pursuing a transition off of fossil fuels, so that’s something in the law that should be changed.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What’s the next step for the FERC Vacancies Campaign?

LEE STEWART: Sometime over the next few weeks, the full Senate will vote on the candidates, and as a coalition we will be watching the votes very, very carefully, and one of our first steps will be to publicize who votes yes and who votes no, and to really hammer away at how hypocritical it’s going to be if some of the senators who have recently been speaking out against Trump’s decision to have the U.S. pull out of the Paris climate accord if they vote yes on appointing a climate denier to FERC.

For more information visit Beyond Extreme Energy at

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