For decades, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has done one thing and done it well: Guaranteed reliable, sustainable and affordable energy for all American consumers by regulating projects related to the interstate transmission of electricity along with natural gas and oil infrastructure.
Think pipelines, transmission lines, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, for instance.
In each case, the commission accomplished its goal following a careful, exhaustive, in-depth review process that dissected, studied and debated every nook and cranny of each proposed project, including its geography and geology, right of ways, proximity to populations and environmental impact.
It was a quiet, under-the-radar, bipartisan commission, dual-party and cross-party. Politics got left at the door, and decisions were based solely on facts, science and the law, not political leanings or one-sided rhetoric.
However, times are changing.
Look at the recent headlines. Protesters now camp outside the commission’s headquarters to oppose projects under review. With commissioner positions opening up, discussions about potential candidates are centered more on political partisan slanting than merit or experience.
Moreover, because of a series of recent, questionable court challenges, there’s a debate about whether the commission’s environmental assessment process, including the need for LNG terminals, is creating unnecessary, bureaucratic red tape, without actually furthering the goals of sensible environmental protection.
For FERC, it’s the end of a political-free era, as one capitol paper headline put it.
If this doesn’t alarm you, it should.
The review, approval and construction of pipelines, transmission lines, LNG terminals and various other much-needed energy infrastructure projects have slowed, lingered and in some cases, halted completely — courtesy of anti-development activists. These activists are determined to stop the development of low-cost energy and its interconnecting infrastructure projects.
Even worse, these groups don’t have any realistic alternatives to how America can safely and adequately fulfill its mounting energy needs.
It should also be noted that if they continue to thwart pipelines and other infrastructure, they’ll certainly — and ironically — succeed in increasing emissions and worsening our environment. That’s because pipelines offer the safest and most environmentally efficient way to deliver energy.
Anti-energy radicals’ most common maneuvers include legal tactics like last-second court rulings and lawsuits to delay projects, all of which wastes time and throws away hard-to-find taxpayer dollars. They also include outright dangerous ploys such as sitting high up in trees along proposed pipeline routes, illegally turning off utilities, blocking road traffic, arson and harassing police officers, citizens and energy company workers — all tactics which jeopardize communities and threaten lives.
Meanwhile, during a period when oil and gasoline prices have been climbing fast in some parts of the country, proposals to help stabilize the constant seesawing supply-and-demand equation by increasing energy production remain in limbo. In FERC’s case, so do infrastructure projects that would help to reduce prices for cash-strapped families living paycheck to paycheck, and small businesses with razor-thin profit margins.
It’s a domino effect that impacts more than just fossil fuel projects.
Renewable generation projects have also gotten the short end of the stick. Cape Wind Associates LLC, for instance, abandoned a proposed offshore wind farm in the Nantucket Sound a couple of years ago after anti-energy opponents falsely argued that the project would have negative environmental and economic impacts. New Hampshire, likewise, recently rejected a hydro transmission project, and New York’s ban on cleaner-burning natural gas production continues to hobble family expenses, job growth and business development in the state.
Biased activists say they’re concerned with leveling prices and protecting the air and water. However, instead of developing oil and gas here, under the most stringent regulations in the world, they pass the buck to other countries that often develop energy in less environmentally-sound ways and then make us pay a premium to import the same energy we could have just produced here.
America is finally in the driver’s seat as a global leader in oil and natural gas production. Besides controlling its energy future, our country’s geopolitical positioning has never been stronger. Thanks to, not in spite of, a record-setting domestic shale boom, the U.S. has cut greenhouse gas emissions, and in 2017, it reduce its carbon emissions more than any other major country.
That’s the kind of real progress FERC can and should continue to support — if we do a better job of supporting them.
David Holt is president of the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA).
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