Pipeline under construction
Pipeline under construction (tibu)

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network and scores of other environmental groups in 35 states are demanding a congressional investigation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, alleging it abuses its power under the Natural Gas Act by stripping states and their residents of legal rights, ignoring federal mandates and inflicting environmental harm, all in the interest of the energy industry,

In a letter to Congress in which the network was joined by more than 180 organizations, Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum on Wednesday urged members of Congress to hold hearings to review FERC’s actions, reform the Natural Gas Act and delay advancement of the Energy Policy Modernization Act, which is intended to streamline the process for reviewing and approving energy infrastructure. The Leidy Southeast Pipeline is one of the natural gas projects mentioned in the letter.

FERC declined to comment.

The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, a trade group representing the state’s natural gas producers, did not return a call for comment.

“The time has now come for Congress to investigate how FERC is using its authority and to recognize that major changes are in fact necessary in order to protect people, including future generations, from the ramifications of FERC’s misuse of its power and implementation of the Natural Gas Act,” the 23-page letter said.

It was sent to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

A Democratic spokesman for the House committee said Congress’ efforts have been focused “almost exclusively” on streamlining the pipeline process for the benefit of industry, “with little regard for the rights of private property owners, communities’ concerns, or the views of state and local officials.” At a minimum, he said, it is time for a “serious and comprehensive look” to ensure the Natural Gas Act, established in 1938, is still serving the public interest.

Van Rossum said the quick response from the House committee left her optimistic about getting congressional hearings in the next term.

The letter alleged a series of abuses by FERC, including ruling on pipeline projects with direct or indirect financial benefits for its employees, failing to hold pipeline companies accountable for environmental violations, and using consultants with conflicts of interest.

Through the use of a “self-manufactured legal loophole” called a tolling order, FERC prevents communities and their residents from challenging a pipeline approval—sometimes for more than a year—while companies use eminent domain to take property rights and move forward with construction, the letter said. The act of tolling denies the public their due process rights, it said.

The letter said research indicated that FERC has never granted a request for a rehearing on a pipeline project to any non-industry party.

According to the letter, FERC “suffers from an unparalleled bias” in favor of the energy industry it regulates because it is fully funded by fees collected from the pipelines and delivery systems it approves. FERC is also free from executive or legislative oversight, the letter said, because it is the only federal agency financially immune from the legislative branch for its budget and there is a “for cause” limitation on the president’s power to remove its commissioners.

The agency strips the rights of states to review pipeline projects by granting approval and authorizing construction prior to a project receiving state water quality certification—an action expressly prohibited by the Clean Water Act, according to the letter.

“At this point, the only way we’re going to have reform is if it is broad-scale reform, from the legislation to the funding to the whole structure of the agency,” van Rossum said.

The letter came six months after a federal lawsuit filed by the network alleging that FERC’s pipeline review and approval process is “infected by structural bias.”

The complaint, filed March 2 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said FERC’s budgetary reliance on natural gas pipeline projects—a “fatally flawed financial structure”—prevents it from fairly presiding over the approval process. FERC filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim that has not yet been ruled upon. FERC’s approval of the PennEast Pipeline Project transporting Marcellus Shale gas is the subject of the lawsuit.

Ben Seal can be contacted at ­215-557-2368 or bseal@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @BSealTLI.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network and scores of other environmental groups in 35 states are demanding a congressional investigation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, alleging it abuses its power under the Natural Gas Act by stripping states and their residents of legal rights, ignoring federal mandates and inflicting environmental harm, all in the interest of the energy industry,

In a letter to Congress in which the network was joined by more than 180 organizations, Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum on Wednesday urged members of Congress to hold hearings to review FERC’s actions, reform the Natural Gas Act and delay advancement of the Energy Policy Modernization Act, which is intended to streamline the process for reviewing and approving energy infrastructure. The Leidy Southeast Pipeline is one of the natural gas projects mentioned in the letter.

FERC declined to comment.

The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, a trade group representing the state’s natural gas producers, did not return a call for comment.

“The time has now come for Congress to investigate how FERC is using its authority and to recognize that major changes are in fact necessary in order to protect people, including future generations, from the ramifications of FERC’s misuse of its power and implementation of the Natural Gas Act,” the 23-page letter said.

It was sent to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

A Democratic spokesman for the House committee said Congress’ efforts have been focused “almost exclusively” on streamlining the pipeline process for the benefit of industry, “with little regard for the rights of private property owners, communities’ concerns, or the views of state and local officials.” At a minimum, he said, it is time for a “serious and comprehensive look” to ensure the Natural Gas Act, established in 1938, is still serving the public interest.

Van Rossum said the quick response from the House committee left her optimistic about getting congressional hearings in the next term.

The letter alleged a series of abuses by FERC, including ruling on pipeline projects with direct or indirect financial benefits for its employees, failing to hold pipeline companies accountable for environmental violations, and using consultants with conflicts of interest.

Through the use of a “self-manufactured legal loophole” called a tolling order, FERC prevents communities and their residents from challenging a pipeline approval—sometimes for more than a year—while companies use eminent domain to take property rights and move forward with construction, the letter said. The act of tolling denies the public their due process rights, it said.

The letter said research indicated that FERC has never granted a request for a rehearing on a pipeline project to any non-industry party.

According to the letter, FERC “suffers from an unparalleled bias” in favor of the energy industry it regulates because it is fully funded by fees collected from the pipelines and delivery systems it approves. FERC is also free from executive or legislative oversight, the letter said, because it is the only federal agency financially immune from the legislative branch for its budget and there is a “for cause” limitation on the president’s power to remove its commissioners.

The agency strips the rights of states to review pipeline projects by granting approval and authorizing construction prior to a project receiving state water quality certification—an action expressly prohibited by the Clean Water Act, according to the letter.

“At this point, the only way we’re going to have reform is if it is broad-scale reform, from the legislation to the funding to the whole structure of the agency,” van Rossum said.

The letter came six months after a federal lawsuit filed by the network alleging that FERC’s pipeline review and approval process is “infected by structural bias.”

The complaint, filed March 2 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said FERC’s budgetary reliance on natural gas pipeline projects—a “fatally flawed financial structure”—prevents it from fairly presiding over the approval process. FERC filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim that has not yet been ruled upon. FERC’s approval of the PennEast Pipeline Project transporting Marcellus Shale gas is the subject of the lawsuit.

Ben Seal can be contacted at ­215-557-2368 or bseal@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @BSealTLI.