Most people probably haven’t heard of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), but this agency will be a major driver of energy infrastructure projects.
Those projects will aid President Donald Trump’s goal of boosting U.S. infrastructure and gaining “energy dominance.”
FERC will play a significant role in approving natural gas pipelines, liquefied natural gas export terminals, electric grid upgrades and other energy projects. The agency was unable to approve projects for months, building a $50 billion backlog of crucial energy projects.
Since FERC gained enough commissioners to reach a quorum in July, the agency has issued more than 65 notational orders and even overruled New York state officials to approve a natural gas pipeline.
“The United States will continue to use more natural gas, which means we need more pipelines and other infrastructure,” Steve Everley, spokesman for Texans for Natural Gas, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Shortly after Trump took office, FERC went from three to two commissioners, which isn’t enough for a quorum to vote on pending energy projects. The Senate approved Trump appointees Rob Powelson and Neil Chatterjee in July.
By the time Trump’s nominees assumed their roles, FERC had held up the approval of at least six pipeline projects valued at $12 billion. More natural gas pipeline projects are also coming up before FERC.
One of Chatterjee’s first major moves as FERC chairman was to overrule New York regulators’ denial of a pipeline permit to the Millennium Pipeline Company on environmental grounds. FERC overturned New York’s decision, saying it had taken too long to issue it.
FERC also approved the NEXUS pipeline, which will bring natural gas from Appalachia to Michigan and Canada.
“Natural gas is also one of the fastest growing fuels worldwide, and the United States will be a major player in the global liquefied natural gas market,” Everley said. “FERC has an important role to play in all of that, making sure projects are properly reviewed and permitted.”
Developers of the $4.5 billion Atlantic Coast pipeline and the $3.5 billion Mountain Valley pipeline want to complete the projects before new environmental regulations take effect. Both those pipelines need FERC approval before they can move forward.
The one obstacle that could impede pipeline approvals: environmental activists.
Environmental groups have opposed many new natural gas pipeline projects around the country, taking cues from the campaign to keep the Keystone XL oil pipeline from being built during the Obama administration.
“They’ve even bragged about how they can harass FERC members and their families at their own homes, which is pretty disgusting,” Everley said. “But it’s an indication of how important FERC is.”
The so-called “Keep It In the Ground” movement sees pipelines as chokepoints it can strangle to keep natural gas and oil from getting to market.
Environmentalists won a small victory in August when a federal court ruled FERC did not properly consider the impacts that approving the Southeast Market pipeline project would have on global warming.
“This decision shows no matter what Donald Trump thinks about climate change, FERC cannot ignore the law,” Jeff Tittel, head of the Sierra Club’s New Jersey branch, told The Washington Examiner.
The Sierra Club sued to stop the pipeline from going forward after it received FERC approval in 2016. Environmentalists are likely to sue to stop future pipeline projects from going through.
“‘Keep It In the Ground’ is trying to make the Commission a focal point of its advocacy efforts because activists think they can score victories against American energy by blocking or delaying pipelines,” Everley said.
Texans for Natural Gas will soon release a report detailing the positive economic impacts that pipelines have on the economy.
The report claims natural gas pipelines support 160,000 jobs in Texas and “provide billions of dollars in state and local tax revenue to help fund public services that we all use,” reads a copy of the report provided to TheDCNF.
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