The new chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says the agency will review its policies, unchanged for nearly two decades, for certifying natural gas pipelines, projects that have sparked contention from North Dakota to Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia, where the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines are advancing toward construction.
Kevin J. McIntyre said in a statement Thursday that the format and scope of the planned review of the 1999 Policy Statement on Certification of New Interstate Natural Gas Pipeline Facilities is still being discussed, though he described it as part of a pledge he made during his U.S. Senate confirmation hearings to “take a fresh look at all aspects of the agency’s work.”
“I believe we in the government should constantly be examining our various processes and procedures to see if we can do anything better,” said McIntyre, who was confirmed by the Senate in November. “Much has changed in the energy world since 1999, and it is incumbent upon us to take another look at the way in which we assess the value and the viability of our pipeline applications.”
FERC faces several lawsuits over its approval of pipeline projects, which critics say amounts to a rubber stamp that, in turn, confers handsome rates of return and powers of eminent domain to seize private property without adequately vetting whether they serve a true public purpose.
A report released last month, commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council, found that FERC has rejected only two of about 400 pipeline applications filed since the 1999 policy was adopted.
“Overbuilding of pipelines is a serious threat given underuse of the existing system and questionable contracts where the pipeline developer acts as both seller and buyer of pipeline capacity,” said Montina Cole, a senior attorney with the environmental group, in a statement Thursday. “To the extent there are unwarranted pipeline costs, utility customers could foot the bill. Heightened community concerns about the environment, health and safety and taking of private property have accompanied the increase in gas pipelines.”
There was no indication that the review would affect the Mountain Valley or Atlantic Coast pipelines, which have received certificates from FERC that are conditioned upon each project obtaining remaining local, state or federal approvals. In a dissent, FERC Commissioner Cheryl A. LaFleur said she could not conclude that either pipeline project was in the public interest.
“At this point, the chairman has only announced an intent to conduct a review; no action has been taken,” FERC spokesman Craig Cano said. “So there is no impact on projects that have received, or are now awaiting, certificates.”