Trump won’t protect the environment — Congress must
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President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord heightens the obligation of our Congress to step up and act in any way it can to reduce climate-changing emissions and advance clean energy technologies.

Congress may not be able to reverse the message Trump sent to our nation and world — that he is doggedly opposed to any actions that will protect our children and communities from climate change — but Congress can take up the mantle of climate change leadership that Trump has abandoned.


The first opportunity to do so is now. The Senate can vote down Trump’s two nominees to fill seats on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).


FERC is the lead agency for reviewing and approving interstate pipelines and liquefied natural gas export facilities that serve the fracked shale gas industry, and FERC’s actions and decision-making are worsening climate change.

The Natural Gas Act gives FERC nearly unfettered authority to advance fracked gas pipeline infrastructure. FERC has used this authority to approve every single pipeline brought before its commissioners over 30 years, but one. All but one. FERC is the epitome of a “rubber stamp” agency.

Natural gas pipelines, liquefied natural gas terminals and compressor stations approved by FERC all emit concerning gas emissions, including methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. Pipelines are themselves a significant source of climate changing methane, and they also open up the spigot that induces and supports increasing shale gas extraction, fracking and use, contributing more dirty fossil fuel emissions.

The greenhouse gas footprint from fracking, drilling and its development, storage and transmission is far worse than that of other major fossil fuels — namely oil and coal. And yet, all of these climate-changing impacts are totally ignored by FERC in its reviews and approvals.

Not only has FERC served as a rubber stamp for pipelines, but it has also misused its authority and the law at every turn in order to advance these projects. FERC routinely uses a legal loophole that prevents people from challenging its approval before a pipeline company uses the power of eminent domain to cut through private property, public parks and preserved lands.. This loophole has placed organizations like mine in legal limbo for as long as 15 months all the while construction and the taking of property rights proceeds.

FERC has undermined state authority by ignoring the letter of the law that requires they allow states to review and approve — or deny — before FERC inevitably green lights the project. The result is pipelines beginning construction on projects that are later rejected by states.

FERC has never issued a civil penalty against a project for violation of environmental protection laws during construction, even when hundreds have been documented on a single project. FERC commissioners and employees are approving projects for which they have clear and obvious conflicts of interest and are even benefitting personally. And the list goes on and on.

But right now, FERC can’t approve any pipelines – not because it doesn’t want to, but because it can’t. FERC lacks the quorum of three sitting commissioners needed to approve any pipeline or liquefied natural gas export projects.

In the coming weeks the Senate will vote on two Trump nominees for the commission. If they vote “yes” the quorum will be restored and an avalanche of pipeline approvals will beset communities across our nation. If they vote “no”, Trump will be denied this mechanism for fueling and advancing the fracked gas arm of the fossil fuel industry.

But Congress can and should go futher. Congress needs to be holding hearings on FERC’s abuses of power and its well-documented bias towards the industry. It then needs to propose real reforms. Recent proposals to increase required public meetings and to help people through the cumbersome FERC process will not fix the problem – they are window dressing designed to hide rather than fix the problem.

The time for us to transition to clean energy is now. We need to leave our remaining fossil fuels in the ground. Study after study has demonstrated that we can make this transition by 2050 if we start today.

In the process, we will be creating more, better-paying jobs, than the fossil fuel industry creates. For every $1 million invested in clean energy (including wind, solar and efficiency) six to eight times more direct jobs, and three times the number of direct, indirect and induced jobs are generated than for dirty fossil fuels including oil and gas.

There is no reason for Congress not to say “no” to these FERC nominees, no reason not to slow the pace of FERC pipeline approvals, that is of course unless you are a politician who receives donations from the fossil fuel industry. All the way around continuing investments in fracked gas, fracked oil, coal, other fossil fuels and their infrastructure is a fool’s errand.

Given the heavy climate changing footprint of the projects that FERC has reviewed and approved and the commission’s abuses of power, the Senate has both a powerful incentive and an obligation to prevent restoration of a quorum at FERC. The president’s actions to advance dirty fossil fuels and to ignore climate change, as evidenced by the decision to walk away from the Paris climate agreement should further encourage hearings into the commission’s impact on the environment and American lives. 

Call your senator today and urge them to vote “no” on FERC nominees Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson.

Maya K. van Rossum has served as the Delaware Riverkeeper and leader for the Delaware Riverkeeper Network for 23 years. The network works throughout New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware protecting the Delaware River watershed through advocacy and litigation, and protecting against shale gas extraction and FERC infrastructure projects. Follow her on Twitter @DelRiverkeeper. 

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.