Activists at the Gate: Anti-Gas Groups Take Protest to FERC Leaders’ Homes
by Sean Sullivan, senior reporter for SNL.com
Friday, February 26, 2016
Originally published on SNL.com.
Some groups fighting the use of natural gas in the U.S. and FERC’s role in permitting gas transportation infrastructure are moving beyond protests held at the commission to protests lodged at the commissioners’ homes.
The FERC Valentine Project encourages participants to send mock Valentine’s Day cards during February to commissioners’ homes with messages on the health and environmental impacts of decisions to grant permits for gas pipelines and LNG terminals. A campaign website includes the commissioners’ home addresses. A sample card reads, “Dear FERC: pipelines, LNG and fracking are no ‘love story’ for front-line communities.”
Lee Stewart, an organizer for Beyond Extreme Energy, said more than 50 people reported sending letters to FERC commissioners through the mail and “hundreds of messages have been sent via social media.” He added that messages have been hand-delivered to all four commissioners’ homes.
“When we delivered messages to the FERC commissioners in person on February 17th, none of the commissioners were home,” Stewart said in a Feb. 22 email. “Someone did come to the door at [Commissioner Cheryl] LaFleur’s apartment in Washington, D.C., as well as [Commissioner] Colette Honorable’s home in Arkansas.
“In both cases,” he continued, “once the person discovered we were there to deliver the Valentine messages, they said they were instructed not to accept it. We left all the messages, including oversized Valentine’s cards, flowers and balloons, on their doorsteps.”
This reach into commissioners’ private lives is a new step, at least in the past few years of protests. FERC would not comment on the campaign. But the agency has taken steps to increase security in response to protests at commission headquarters in Washington.
FERC Chairman Norman Bay has encouraged protesters to follow the commission’s procedures for public comment and cracked down on disruptions of FERC meetings. LaFleur said during her chairmanship that she respects the views of those who are against gas infrastructure, but the chairman has an obligation to make sure FERC staff can work “safely and without harassment.” Federal laws prohibit intimidation of government officials performing public duties.
FERC, as the federal permitting agency for interstate gas transportation infrastructure, has seen more protests in the past few years. Industry observers have said the agency, with public comment opportunities in reviews under the Natural Gas Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, is an easy place for opponents to attack the entire oil and gas industry.
The groups behind the Valentine Project and other environmental and landowner organizations have expressed frustration with a FERC review process that gives them a voice but in their view no power to stop pipelines and LNG terminals.
Some groups, such as the Sierra Club and Earthjustice, make arguments in FERC filings and appeal FERC decisions in federal court. Other groups put together protests that hit FERC out in the world. Beyond Extreme Energy has interrupted FERC monthly meetings and marched and fasted outside the building.
“We plan to hold FERC commissioners accountable until FERC stops issuing fossil fuel infrastructure projects and dedicates itself to rapidly transitioning America to a locally sourced, decentralized and democratic energy system,” Stewart said.