FERC Pressed on Failure to Protect Landowners in Natural Gas Construction Projects
Washington, D.C. (Dec. 10, 2020) Yesterday, Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, pressed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for failing to protect the rights of landowners whose properties are affected by natural gas projects, and followed up on the investigation and video report the Subcommittee released earlier this year.
Chairman Raskin opened the bipartisan hearing, saying:
“These are Republicans. These are Democrats. These are American citizens whose rights are being trampled by a combination of big business and a compliant big government working for big business. These are Americans who have a right to their property and their rights are being demolished. FERC just clears the way for pipeline companies to trample the property rights of the people.”
Chairman Raskin also released new data showing that FERC approved 89 out of 92 certificate extension requests over the last 12 years. During that same timeframe, FERC denied every landowner appeal it received. Chairman Raskin stated:
“A system where corporations win nearly 100% of the time and people win 0% of the time is not a fair, unbiased, and balanced system. It is rigged. That is not a system of justice or of administrative process that anyone can recognize for a democratic society.”
FERC’s witnesses, Mr. David Morenoff, Acting General Counsel, and Mr. Terry Turpin, Director of the Office of Energy Projects, faced pointed questions from committee members and made several key admissions.
- In response to questions from Chairman Raskin, FERC admitted that it does not use authority it has to protect landowners. For example, FERC does not condition its pipeline approval on a requirement that the company return unused land to its owners when a construction project is cancelled.
- In response to questioning from Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney about FERC’s request for legislation barring eminent domain cases from proceeding while FERC appeals are pending, FERC acknowledged that it has independent authority—which it chooses not to exercise—to suspend its certificates and forestall eminent domain without any action from Congress.
- Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz relayed the story of the Hollerans, a family in Pennsylvania who, in 2016, lost 90% of the maple trees in their small maple syrup business due to “pre-construction” for the Constitution Pipeline. That pipeline was cancelled earlier this year. Despite asserting that the business’s destruction was “not an outcome that the FERC review process was ever intended to allow to have happen,” FERC nevertheless acknowledged that its recent changes in procedure do not guarantee that such an outcome cannot happen again.
- In response to Rep. Robin Kelly’s question about why FERC has failed to create the Office of Public Participation that Congress authorized 40 years ago, FERC claimed that it needs funds to do so, despite never having requested such funds from Congress.
- When challenged by Rep. Rashida Tlaib for failing to sufficiently educate landowners about their rights, FERC admitted that it does not proactively notify landowners that they are in the path of a pipeline or of how to assert their rights. Instead, FERC delegates that responsibility to pipeline companies.