EJ LEADERS SPEAK OUT ON FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION (FERC) NEGLECT ONE YEAR AFTER EQUITY ROUNDTABLE

WASHINGTON DC – On March 29, 2023, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission held the first FERC Equity and Environmental Justice Roundtable. The Commission-led Roundtable was intended to “discuss environmental justice and equity in its jurisdictional infrastructure permitting processes.” FERC “regulates interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil, and also regulates hydropower projects and natural gas terminals.” As we reflect back on the one-year anniversary of the Roundtable, the recent hearings on FERC nominees hosted by Senate Energy & Natural Resources, and the pause on LNG projects, we must highlight the fact that FERC has not advanced environmental justice and equity in a meaningful and substantive way. Despite the breadth of ideas presented at the Roundtable and submitted during the corresponding open docket as well as from years of advocacy preceding the Roundtable, the Commission continues to disregard the voices, best interests, and needs of front and fenceline communities. Reflections from panelists are below. 

QUOTES 

“At last year’s FERC Environmental Justice and Equity Roundtable, my remarks stressed the importance of the Roundtable as more than a ‘checked-box.’ One year later and it seemingly became just that. Myself and other panelists urged the Commission to treat the Roundtable as a meaningful step in thoroughly addressing equity, environmental justice, and climate justice, as well as increasing accountability, transparency, and engagement at the Commission. As FERC continues to greenlight fossil fuel projects, we have seen little to no progress in that regard and all the while, front and fenceline communities continue to bear disproportionate harms, such as pollution exposure, public health risks, decreased quality of life, and cumulative overburdening. WE ACT wholeheartedly believes that it is within the Commission’s authority and jurisdiction to address environmental justice in a substantive way. And yet, FERC’s consistent failure to do so speaks volumes.”

– Dana Johnson, Senior Director of Federal Policy and Strategy, WE ACT for Environmental Justice

“One year later, the singer and performer Janet Jackson comes to mind. ‘What have you done for EJ lately?’ Nothing at all. The lack of progress is unacceptable. The FERC Chairman must follow the directives of the Biden Administration to center environmental justice at all levels of government – including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Environmental Justice must be front and center for all agencies. I am not sure what is delaying progress at FERC but the people cannot wait. Our lives, health, and wellbeing are at stake. We need environmental justice, for all, and we need it now.”

– John Beard, Founder, President, Executive Director, Port Arthur Community Action Network

“As a frontline community member and a mother, it has been heartbreaking to witness the lack of progress by FERC in addressing environmental justice concerns since I was chosen to sit on the FERC Environmental Justice Roundtable a year ago. Despite the countless recommendations submitted during the roundtable and the open docket, FERC has failed to operationalize any of them. Instead, FERC has continued to approve harmful projects and perpetuate procedural injustice, disregarding the overarching message from the Biden-Harris Administration about adequately safeguarding the health of our communities, especially those disproportionately affected by pollution from new LNG export facilities. The recent FERC Nomination Hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee further highlighted the bleak future we face. Throughout the two-hour hearing, environmental justice was not explicitly named, and all three nominees expressed some level of commitment to the LNG buildout without considering the greenhouse gas emissions. It is disheartening to see the lack of action and the disregard for the well-being of frontline communities. We need FERC to prioritize environmental justice and take meaningful steps to address our concerns. Our communities deserve better, and it is time for FERC to step up and fulfill its responsibility to protect the health and rights of all.”

– Roishetta Sibley Ozane, Founder and Executive Director, The Vessel Project of Louisiana

“The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is a captured agency. Instead of applying independent review, the FERC Commissioners seem woefully tied to the interests of fossil fuel infrastructure development. With the likely rubber stamping of the incoming nominees by a Senate committee led by fossil fuel interests, there is little evidence that the Commission will take seriously its charge to mitigate the impacts of climate change for first and worst affected communities. While we can appreciate the work of some staff, as a whole, disappointment and frustration marks the anniversary of the Environmental Justice Roundtable. Hip Hop Caucus will continue to voice the concerns of communities and push environmental justice for all.”

– Russell Armstrong, Senior Director, Campaigns and Advocacy, Hip Hop Caucus

“At FERC’s EJ Roundtable one year ago, we called for the Commission to publish comprehensive guidance on environmental justice. Such guidance would aid both FERC and permit applicants, and increase the legal durability of the Commission’s decisions. It would also make good on commitments from FERC and the Biden Administration to center environmental justice in policy decisionmaking. The Commission has broad legal authority to weigh environmental justice impacts in its infrastructure permitting and deny projects based on such considerations. One year later, however, the Commission has not taken substantial steps towards the goal of integrating environmental justice into its processes and decision making. We continue to see projects that are not in the public interest approved, leaving behind vulnerable communities.”

– Al Huang, Director of Environmental Justice, Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law

 

“Last year I said the environmental justice work done by FERC could not end with a Roundtable, but unfortunately, it looks like that is just what happened. We still have not seen FERC issue any clear environmental justice guidance or spell out ways to better engage local communities in its decision making process. Communities across the country are counting on FERC to take action based on what they heard from frontline and fenceline community leaders during and after last year’s roundtable.

As prospective new commissioners to FERC move through the confirmation process, it is imperative that Congress ensure those nominees will consider the people living near dirty energy infrastructure in its decisions and prioritize clean, renewable energy. And we will keep up that pressure once they take their seat at the commission.”

– Ben Jealous, Executive Director, Sierra Club

“We are encouraged to see the vocal commitment of Chairman Phillips to Environmental Justice; however communities that are directly impacted by the decisions of the commission deserve more than just nominal support while the commission continues to approve projects that are harmful to the quality of life of disadvantaged communities. Communities that live on the fencelines of proposed projects are demanding that FERC design Environmental Justice guidance that is built on direct input and incorporation of community considerations and concerns. We need to move Environmental Justice from just a suggestion to something that is a dedicated and vital discussion in FERC permitting and rulemaking. Until this happens, FERC should follow the lead of the Department of Energy and pause approval of new oil and gas projects until the standards and guidance are meaningfully updated. “

– Kari Fulton, Senior Organizing Director, Center for Oil and Gas Organizing

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