FERC doesn’t have to listen to concerns

To the Editor:

I read with interest your editorial of August 13, where you asked the question as to whether the federal government will listen to the public that overwhelmingly opposed the Northeast Direct Pipeline to be built by Tennessee Gas. The agency tasked with overseeing the permitting process is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Part of that process were the recent scoping sessions where information was gathered from the public as to the environmental impacts of the proposal.

Established by Congress in 1928 as the Federal Power Commission to coordinate hydro-electric projects under federal control, the scope and mission of the commission steadily expanded over time. The FPC was reorganized and renamed in 1977. Although its commissioners are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate, FERC, on its website is described as an "independent agency".

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 made the most significant changes to FERC and its authority since the 1930s. The law gave FERC broad power to overrule local and state governments with regard to the siting of new gas pipelines, even when they conflict with federal law. FERC also was given the power of eminent domain so it can take property to build infrastructure. It permits "contracts", even export contracts to be considered "public good" for the taking of land via eminent domain.

This 2005 bill also contains the infamous "Halliburton loophole", named for the energy company where then Vice President Dick Cheney served as CEO in the 1990s. This loophole exempts fracking from federal clean water regulations. The gas that Tennessee Gas will be transporting in the pipeline, if it is approved, is fracked gas from Pennsylvania. FERC was also given the ability to override the Clean Air Act and the Clean Drinking Water Act. In addition, FERC is allowed to simply read and not abide by reports and suggestions from the Environmental Protection Agency and from the state Site Evaluation Committee.

After ten days in office, Cheney the former CEO of Halliburton, convened an energy task force whose members and meetings were kept secret from the public. The 2005 Energy Act is a direct result of these meetings. Bush and Cheney’s chickens have come home to roost in southern New Hampshire, but that doesn’t mean we must make it an easy or comfortable nesting place.

Jennifer Daler