Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Pipeline Web of Devastation Needs Investigation

A fast growing web of interstate pipelines to service the fracked shale gas industry is creeping across the nation capturing communities in its devastating grip.   At the center of the web is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an agency that is imbued with extraordinary power to damage lives and approve environmental damage that spans generations. 

 Once FERC approves a fracked gas pipeline it anoints the pipeline company with the power of eminent domain, allowing the pipeline industry to take private property, public parks, preserved forests and preserved lands.  Once approved by FERC, pipelines are also exempted from state and local laws that apply to every other industry for protecting community health, safety and environments, which means the impact of their damaging footprint is far greater than many expect.  The construction and operation of pipelines inflict significant harms on the communities they cut  including reducing crop yields on farms, polluting air and water, cutting down forests, undermining local business and forcing families to live next to the constant threat of pipeline accidents and explosions.    

FERC’s extraordinary level of power over the lives of the public and our environment requires unbiased and careful reviews of pipeline projects to ensure they are actually serving a public need, that they are avoiding all unnecessary harm, that they are dealing fairly with the communities and the property owners they are impacting, and that they are fully complying with the laws that do apply. 

The opposite is true. 

FERC has become a demonstrably biased agency that operates as a partner with, rather than a regulator of, the pipeline companies it purports to oversee.

According to Delaware Riverkeeper Network research, FERC has only ever denied one proposed natural-gas pipeline (one that was not submitted by energy companies). There's not a single other federal agency that has an approval rate this close to 100 percent. Also, meetings where pipelines are approved allow for no public comment.

Meetings where pipelines are approved allow for no public comment; those who have dared speak out at these meetings have been removed by security officials and in some cases arrested.

In addition, our research shows, FERC has never issued a civil penalty for violations related to
construction activity for any pipeline project.  And yet, we know for a fact from reviewing agency records and our own monitoring that violations during construction border on the routine.

FERC is systematically interpreting and applying the law, and taking advantage of legal loopholes, as part of a clear and obvious effort to strip communities of their legal rights and ability to challenge pipeline projects before they go to construction and before they can inflict their unnecessary harm.

License for FERC’s abuse of power and demonstrated bias is provided by the agency’s funding mechanism which makes it an agency funded entirely by the industry it regulates – the more pipelines it approves, the more money for its budget it receives.  FERC’s bias and abuse of power is also advanced by the revolving employee door between the agency and the pipeline industry.  

It is time that the public secure an independent investigation of FERC to identify necessary reforms.  We need Senators like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who serve on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to request such a review from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

All of these pipelines are for a fracked gas energy source that experts on all sides of the issue say will peak by the year 2020 and be in serious decline by the year 2040. 

There can be no defense for destroying the lives and livelihoods of so many for private profit, for taking public lands preserved with public dollars to serve purely private industrial interests, for the unavoidable harms to the environment, and for approving the proliferation of pipelines to serve a dying energy source that will prevent us from achieving goals needed to protect us from the worsening ramifications of climate change.  FERC is quick to dismiss from its review all of this evidence and all of these concerns because considering them would require it to say no to some, if not all, of the pipelines coming before it for review and approval.

What you can do …
Join us in asking Congress to request an independent review by the Government Accountability Office into the funding, operations and many abuses taking place at FERC, and to help identify needed reforms that will transform FERC into an agency seeking to protect and serve the public rather one serving the fracked gas pipeline industry. 

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