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Impacts on Us

What I learned about FERC

by Susan McSwain, Shipman, VA

For my entire life, I have believed that people working in various Federal agencies are basically decent people, drawn to their jobs by a desire to serve the public. I have also held that, although many go astray, other citizens are initially drawn to politics for the same reasons.

However, for the past 18 months, I have expended considerable time and energy in an effort to educate myself about the process whereby ordinary citizens can participate in FERC decisions on applications submitted by wealthy fossil fuel corporations. What I have learned has brutally challenged my faith and trust in some agencies of my government, and I have also acquired a cynicism about politics that I did not have before.

The FERC website itemizes 13 bullet points on what FERC does.  One bullet point reads, “Approves the siting and abandonment of interstate natural gas pipelines and storage facilities.” Note that it does not say that FERC “reviews” pipelines and storage facilities. The sentence reads that FERC “approves” these facilities! The system is set up so that applications cannot fail to be approved. So much for democracy!

FERC does not exist in a vacuum. Politicians created the framework under which FERC operates, so it is disingenuous for politicians to say they cannot do anything to fix FERC. To make things worse, many of us in the trenches in rural America feel that FERC employees have no regard for the environment. None whatsoever! Unfortunately, this had led to FERC becoming a 4-letter word with too many people around the country. Ordinary citizens face daunting hurdles at every step of the process when it comes to addressing the threats posed by ever increasing fossil fuel infrastructure to the basics of life – clean water and air. Our forests are fragmented by pipelines, animal and plant communities are put at risk, our health is assaulted by noise and air pollution, our property values are destroyed, and our property rights are violated. The entire premise on which FERC operates is outdated and must be totally overhauled to fit the emerging threat of catastrophic climate change.

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