Energy & Environment

Energy regulator declines states’ request for moratorium on pipeline approvals

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Neil Chatterjee has rejected a request from several states to pause approvals for new energy infrastructure projects such as natural gas pipelines.

Chatterjee, in a Tuesday letter to Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D), argued that energy projects are important to the country’s infrastructure and said a moratorium would be “short-sighted and impractical.”

“As our nation grapples with these uncertain and unprecedented times, the energy sector must continue to deliver reliable and affordable energy for everyone,” he wrote. “Hindering the build-out of energy infrastructure now could have long-term and lasting negative impacts on the delivery of energy the future.”

“For these reasons, I view requests for a moratorium on energy projects to be short-sighted and impractical,” the commissioner added. “Any step to slow the energy economy is a step in the wrong direction.”

Last week, attorneys general from 10 states and Washington, D.C., wrote a letter saying that waiting to approve the projects is necessary in order to protect the due process rights of people who might be affected by them. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed even greater burdens on communities attempting to organize their interests and participate in Commission proceedings,” they wrote. “The Commission should account for the unprecedented hardships the pandemic has imposed on citizens and postpone any approvals of permanent gas infrastructure until those affected by its decisions can once again focus on these matters.” 

Chatterjee also addressed this argument in his letter, writing the commission continues “to post all submittals and issuances on the FERC eLibrary website and we continue to receive comments, which enable us to thoroughly consider and address parties’ concerns in our orders.”

A FERC spokesperson said in an email that Chatterjee will be replying soon to all of the attorneys general who wrote to him, but responded to Herring first because of questions about specific projects.

Asked for comment on Chatterjee’s letter, a spokesperson for Herring said in an email that the attorney general “made a very reasonable request for FERC to hit pause on approving new fossil fuel projects that will exacerbate climate change and pollute the air while we’re in the middle of an outbreak of a deadly respiratory disease that limits the public’s ability to weigh-in.”

“Many of these projects directly affect the populations and communities around them and the public deserves the right to an unrestricted comment and debate period before a project is finalized in their area,” the spokesperson added.

Nearly 30 House Democrats had previously asked FERC for a moratorium on energy infrastructure projects, saying it is necessary “to protect the public health, our environment, and the American people’s confidence in the integrity of governmental administrative and legal proceedings.”

The commission has recently come under separate scrutiny from lawmakers after a House probe found that over the past 12 years, when landowners have sought to appeal FERC’s decision to give companies eminent domain over their property, their appeals were ultimately denied every time.

Updated at 7:04 p.m.

Tags energy infrastructure Federal Energy Regulatory Commission FERC Mark Herring Neil Chatterjee Oil pipelines pipelines

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