FERC Chairman Richard Glick will create a new senior staff position to ensure that the Commission is sufficiently addressing environmental justice and equity in its orders on energy projects, he said February 11.
The appointed person will work with agency departments to see that FERC decisions do not harm historically marginalized communities where large energy infrastructure projects are often built, Glick said during a press conference. The position will be cross-cutting within the FERC organizational chart in that the job will entail working with all Commission offices to integrate environmental justice and equity matters into FERC orders.
He has expressed concerns about environmental justice in the past, including a dissent on the Rio Grande LNG export project where he said he was deeply troubled by the environmental justice implications of FERC approving a project to be built in Cameron County, Texas, where one-third of the population is below the poverty line and a large representation of minority groups. He made similar comments about environmental justice regarding the Weymouth compressor station in Massachusetts that is part of the Atlantic Bridge project of Algonquin Gas Transmission.
The senior staff position to be announced will not just be a title, Glick told reporters, in that he wants to see that environmental justice and equity priorities get the attention they deserve. FERC has been directed to review a host of issues and “we need to spend more time” on environmental justice to ensure all voices are heard when FERC reviews energy infrastructure applications, he said.
Glick listed five broad priorities in brief prepared remarks before taking questions. Those include ensuring that market rules do not discriminate against new technologies. FERC Orders 841 and 2222, addressing energy storage and distributed energy resources, respectively, are a good start, with more to be done, he said.
Improving the siting of natural gas pipeline and LNG export projects to ensure that projects are needed and in the public interest, with greenhouse gas (GHG) emission analysis in line with a court directive, is a priority. Whether this step involves picking up the Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on FERC’s certificate policy statement, which has been dormant since 2018, or addressing projects on a case-by-case basis has yet to be determined, Glick said.
“I need to talk to my colleagues” and try to gain consensus or a majority view on the best approach, he said. He gave former Chairman Kevin McIntyre “a ton of credit” for starting the NOI and receiving voluminous comments on how FERC should consider natural gas project applications. “The issues are still valid,” he said, vowing to work with his fellow commissioners on a way forward.
In the meantime, “I don’t intend to sit on orders for years and years” because he does not have a majority supporting his views. While Glick and Commissioner Alison Clements have expressed views that may be in the minority on GHG emissions, environmental justice and project reviews under the Natural Gas Act (NGA) and the National Environmental Policy Act, Glick said he does not want to hold project orders. As chairman he sets the agenda for the Commission, but if he does not have the votes, he will not block orders from being addressed, he said.
Glick knows he may have to dissent on orders, given the views expressed by commissioners. The term of Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, a Republican, ends June 30, and President Joe Biden will presumably nominate a Democrat to fill that spot, flipping the current 3-2 Republican majority to a 3-2 Democrat majority among the five commissioners.
Glick said he was heartened by Chatterjee’s comments during the January meeting, when Chatterjee expressed a desire to reach compromises on issues such as how GHG emission analysis should be handled when reviewing projects seeking NGA certificates.
Glick has often dissented on pipeline and LNG projects reviews because he does not believe FERC’s GHG emission analysis follows a remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. “I’m not against pipelines,” he said, reiterating points he has brought up in dissenting statements. Some people believe his numerous dissents on projects over the years mean his is against all pipelines. “That’s simply not true,” he said of such an interpretation.
FERC’s reviews of GHG emissions can be more thorough and follow the court’s mandate while still approving LNG projects and pipelines. Any negative effects can be weighed against benefits and either mitigated or found to be outweighed by project benefits, he noted.
Glick said he will work with fellow commissioners for a better approach, and he pointed to the Jordan Cove LNG export project in Oregon as “a perfect example” of why the current approach is not optimal. FERC approved that project and related pipeline over the objections of Oregon, and those objections were recently upheld by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The current approach of FERC approval, which carries eminent domain authority with it, puts the cart before the horse by enabling construction while permits or other agency reviews are pending, Glick said.
After the press conference, the agenda for the February 18 meeting was released, with the policy statement NOI (PL18-1), the Atlantic Bridge project (CP16-9) of Algonquin and Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline LLC among the certificate items to be addressed.
Building out the power grid to meet federal and state policy goals is another priority. Improving the transmission planning process, especially for interregional transmission lines, and providing incentives for more transmission investment is something Glick intends to tackle. There is a rulemaking pending on transmission incentives that Glick dissented on, in part because he believes it should focus on federal and state policies.
Several clean energy groups and others have advocated for FERC to take a more active role in transmission planning, even though states have transmission siting authority and an appeals court ruling in 2009 created some uncertainty on FERC’s backstop transmission authority in corridors designated by the Department of Energy (DOE). Glick said he is looking at the legal issues and believes FERC has “pretty significant authority” on transmission under the Federal Power Act in certain circumstances. DOE under the Biden administration may take a more active role on transmission corridors, consistent with the authority laid out by Congress, to provide more clarity on the issues, he said.
The fourth priority is seeing that state resource decisions are accommodated, consistent with the Federal Power Act. That law designates states with the authority to make power generation and resource decisions, with FERC oversight of organized wholesale markets and grid reliability.
In the Eastern regional transmission organizations (RTOs), there is a recognition that the minimum offer price rule imposed by FERC is not sustainable and states are considering exiting those organized markets. Glick said his goal is to not block state policies or resource decisions, while ensuring that the organized markets are competitive and not discriminatory.
The fifth priority Glick highlighted is cybersecurity and coordinating with the North American Electric Reliability Corp. on security and grid reliability issues.
The priorities he listed were simply items he wants to focus on initially and are not meant to be exclusive of other issues. There may be technical conferences needed to address some of the items, he told reporters, without providing specifics.
At several points during the question-and-answer session, Glick said he intends to provide more details on his plans during the February 18 open meeting.
When asked if he has had contact with the White House since being named chairman, given the Biden administration’s emphasis on climate change and FERC’s role, Glick said he has had “no real discussion” with White House officials. “FERC is an independent agency,” he said. While the White House could be treated like any other stakeholder and is allowed to provide input, Glick said he is confident that the Biden administration will respect the Commission’s independence and not try to interfere with any proceedings.
The Trump administration raised questions about White House interference when DOE sought a proposed rulemaking at FERC to support coal and nuclear generation resources, though that proposal was rejected in a unanimous 5-0 vote.
In that 2018 order, Glick issued a concurring statement that one of the elements the nation needs to consider is the impact on jobs of using less fossil fuel. Coal miners and oil workers have dangerous jobs and “they’ve powered our economy for many years.” Glick said during the press conference. Changes in energy markets are having a devastating effect on jobs in certain regions, he noted in response to a question about the Biden administration’s plan for “green jobs” in the clean energy sector.
As the press conference was being held, White House officials announced a broad effort to stimulate job creation while tackling the climate crisis. The White House statement includes the launch of a new research group, a funding opportunity from DOE on low-carbon energy technologies and other steps.
The Biden administration has a goal of reaching a carbon-free power sector by 2035, and clean energy advocates are commenting how FERC can play a role. When asked if he believes reaching that target is feasible, Glick deferred to other experts. Though he pointed out that when renewable portfolio standards were set and people were skeptical of reaching those clean energy milestones, they’ve been exceeded. Compared with past energy policy targets, Glick continued in his response, major corporations and a larger swath of the U.S. economy are interested in reducing GHG emissions.
In a broad legislative package approved by Congress at the end of 2020, FERC is directed to carry out a past mandate to establish an Office of Public Participation. The measure instructs FERC to submit a report to Congress within 180 days of enactment, detailing how it will establish and operate the office. “We’ll meet that deadline,” Glick said. “I’m committed to do this,” and will have more to say on the subject at the open meeting, he said.
By Tom Tiernan firstname.lastname@example.org