Post ‘jihad’ kerfuffle, regulator aims to step into spotlight

Sam Mintz, E&E News reporter
Published: Wednesday, May 17, 2017
https://www.eenews.net/greenwire/2017/05/17/stories/1060054674

President Trump has nominated National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners President Robert Powelson to serve as a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

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Photo courtesy of @NARUC via Twitter.

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner Robert Powelson has a similar style to President Trump.

Powelson, who last week was nominated by Trump to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is not afraid to speak his mind, even if it means veering into politically incorrect territory, like when he said in March that pipeline opponents were engaged in a “jihad.”

He’s also OK with standing up to (and putting down) more established political figures, such as when he criticized New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) for his state’s cautious approach on pipeline permitting or Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) for his support of a hydraulic fracturing ban.

But under the brash approach is an intelligent, well-qualified regulator who has aspired to leadership roles at every step in his career, say friends and supporters.

Powelson got his start working at chambers of commerce in Pennsylvania, first the Delaware County Chamber and then Chester County’s. After 14 years as president and CEO at the latter, he was nominated by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell to the Public Utility Commission in 2008. He led the PUC as chairman for four years under Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

He is also the current president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, a position that has served as a pipeline to the federal commission in recent years. If confirmed, Powelson would be the third NARUC president to move to FERC since 2012.

Powelson is not a fan of the Clean Power Plan and instead favors “market-based decarbonization,” which he says has been responsible for power plant emission reductions in Pennsylvania. He is an advocate for states’ rights and supports an “all of the above,” hybrid approach to energy generation.

Another area of similarity between Powelson and Trump is that Powelson is willing to talk about and advocate for less popular approaches that might challenge conventional wisdom.

An example is when he expressed support in 2015 for decoupling, or separating utilities’ electricity sales from their revenues. The idea is to remove disincentives for utilities to encourage conservation and energy efficiency measures, which under the traditional system would decrease sales — and revenues. In a decoupled system, utilities could structure their rates to reflect the actual cost of maintaining infrastructure, rather than on how much electricity customers take from the grid.

The practice has been supported by environmentalists but is generally opposed by consumer advocates and utilities and has been adopted in some form in 23 states — but not Pennsylvania.

“Personally, I think PA needs to come out of the stone ages here,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2015.

‘Extremely pro-natural gas’

Despite his openness to innovation, Powelson is seen by some in Pennsylvania, which one observer called a “very pro-industry state when it comes to the regulatory system,” as overly friendly to the companies he has been tasked with regulating.

“He is extremely pro-natural gas, to the point where I have to question whether he would be objective enough to really sort of look at the harm that is done by various natural gas infrastructure proposals,” said Joe Minott, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council.

“His jihadist comment, I think, is an excellent reflection of how he sees any opposition to moving ahead with natural gas. He’s the epitome of Sarah Palin’s ‘drill, baby, drill,'” Minott said.

Speaking to gas industry representatives at Pennsylvania’s Upstream PA conference March 21, Powelson made the “jihad” comment in reference to anti-pipeline activists who had picketed the homes of FERC commissioners in 2016, according to StateImpact.

“The jihad has begun,” he said. “At the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, groups actually show up at commissioners’ homes to make sure we don’t get this gas to market. How irresponsible is that?”

Powelson later acknowledged his choice of words was inappropriate.

But the incident remains a jarring symbol for people like Lynda Farrell, who directs the Pipeline Safety Coalition in Pennsylvania.

“I would say anyone who characterizes landowners and civilians seeking to protect their rights and their quality of life as jihadists should not serve in public office,” she said. “You don’t make that kind of a statement as a slip of the tongue.”

Supporters of Powelson disagree with that characterization.

“Looking at one flash in time I don’t think is a fair analysis of Rob. There are plenty of times where he has spoken out clearly and candidly and critically of industry, the people that we’re regulating,” said John Coleman, who has served with Powelson on the Pennsylvania PUC since 2010.

“In his view, if you’re violating what he sees as the rules of engagement, you’re going to hear from him,” Coleman said.

From NARUC to FERC

Unlike Kevin McIntyre, a likely pick to lead the energy regulatory agency whose Jones Day colleague Don McGahn worked on the Trump campaign and landed a key job as White House counsel, Powelson does not appear to have concrete personal ties to the president.

He also does not have the congressional connections that fellow nominee Neil Chatterjee, a longtime energy aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), can use as the confirmation process advances.

It’s possible Powelson caught the attention of the White House during the transition. NARUC leaders had what he called an “intense dialogue” with the administration’s transition team, in the form of a call with Trump’s energy transition leader, American Energy Alliance President Thomas Pyle (Energywire, Feb 1).

In the call and a follow-up letter to Pyle, Powelson emphasized updates to infrastructure and called on the president to reduce “federal overreach” on energy issues including generation resource allocation, net metering and electric transmission siting authority.

The emphasis on states’ rights is an important one to Powelson and others he has worked with, some of whom are celebrating the potential addition of a state regulator to the federal body.

“We always want to make sure that FERC appreciates what we believe as a policy matter are firmly within our purview as state officials and state regulators,” said Richard Mroz, president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

“Sometimes a particular state perspective can get lost in very complex issues, with a lot of intervenors, a lot of parties. I just think it’s good to know that someone there, a commissioner, will still be mindful of what is important to state commissions and ultimately to the consumers in our states,” Mroz said.

Kevin Hughes, chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission, said Powelson has “a keen appreciation for the role and responsibility of states to ensure that their citizens have access to reliable and affordable power.”

Powelson said in February that he thought state regulators would take leadership roles as Trump appointees in agencies. In one case, at least, that prediction was prescient.

In another interview, Powelson said he saw a “very clear edict” in his dealings with the Trump administration. “We’re going to invest in infrastructure, and we are going to do it in a very efficient manner, and with respect to environmental protection, obviously,” he said.

The overlap between his priorities and Trump’s is likely not coincidental, some observers say.

“I had heard that he was lobbying pretty hard for this. I think he was able to persuade the Trump administration that he was able to reflect their values when it comes to regulating,” said Minott.

Twitter: @samjmintz Email: smintz@eenews.net

Coalition urges confirmation delay, Trump investigation

Hannah Northey, E&E News reporter
Published: Monday, May 15, 2017
https://www.eenews.net/eenewspm/2017/05/15/stories/1060054570

Environmentalists want the Senate to delay confirmation hearings for vacant Federal Energy Regulatory Commission posts until President Trump’s business ties and former FBI Director James Comey’s firing are investigated.

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Photo by Ryan McKnight, courtesy of Flickr.

More than 160 groups opposing President Trump’s nominations for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission called today for delaying Senate confirmation hearings while lawmakers probe the president’s potential conflicts of interest and ties to foreign governments.

“President Trump’s unknown personal and professional ties with foreign leaders and foreign corporations raise serious and legitimate concerns for those he would seek to install in these highly consequential positions,” a number of groups, including the newly formed “FERC Vacancies Campaign,” wrote to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Also signing the letter were Green America, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Beyond Extreme Energy.

The groups, which are also meeting with members of the Senate panel next week, argue that Trump’s FERC picks — Neil Chatterjee, a top energy aide for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Pennsylvania regulator Robert Powelson — could be subject to “behind-the-scenes pressure” from the president.

FERC is led by acting Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur and Colette Honorable, both Democrats, who have been unable to make high-profile decisions since former FERC Chairman Norman Bay abruptly left in February, depriving the five-seat commission of a quorum.

“FERC’s role in protecting the U.S. energy grid is essential to our national security,” the groups told Murkowski. “Recent events regarding President Trump’s firing of FBI Director Comey, including his apparent demand for loyalty in how the Director carried out his decision making and activities as head of the FBI, heightens our alarm and concern.”

Their letter is part of a broader effort to align FERC critics with bipartisan fallout Trump is facing after the firing last week of FBI Director James Comey. On NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) urged the president to stop talking or tweeting about the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and allow the inquiry to move forward.

In their letter, the groups demanded Chatterjee and Powelson’s confirmation hearing be delayed until a hearing is held to investigate “multiple and documented reports” of what they say amounts to FERC misusing its authority to block challenges to federal pipeline approvals, rushing environmental assessments and unfairly granting eminent domain.

Delaware Riverkeeper has made similar arguments in court. In April, the group filed an appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, challenging a lower court’s decision to toss a lawsuit against FERC for its alleged bias toward approving pipelines (Energywire, April 21).

Despite calls for a delay in FERC confirmations, Murkowski last week said she’ll move “as quick as possible” to restore FERC’s quorum.

And Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the panel’s ranking member, said last week that she was unfamiliar with Powelson but planned to research his background. Cantwell also said she’d already had a brief conversation about “market manipulation” with Chatterjee. The FERC nominee had also helped Cantwell and Murkowski navigate energy conference talks with the House last year, the senator said.

Ted Glick, a member of Beyond Extreme Energy, acknowledged calls for a delay may not stick given the bipartisan push to re-establish FERC’s quorum and the agency’s ability to make high-profile decisions.

“We know it’s a long shot, we’re not stupid,” Glick said. “We also know it’s the right thing to do. Sooner or later, you start winning victories.”

Reporter Geof Koss contributed.

Twitter: @HMNorthey Email: hnorthey@eenews.net

The Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources Needs Your Phone Call Now!

Urgent – the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources Needs Your Phone Call …Now!

They are planning to schedule hearings that would install Donald Trump Nominees at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

FERC is notorious for abusing its legal authority and peoples’ rights.

e.g. FERC routinely strips people of their legal right to challenge pipeline projects until it is too late – until property rights have been stripped, forests cut, and people are forced to live next to explosive fracked gas pipelines and compressors.

Right Now, FERC Can’t Approve Any Fracked Gas Pipelines or LNG Export Facilities Because they Don’t have the Legal Quorum Necessary to Cast Binding Votes. We need to keep it that way.

And we certainly don’t want a Donald Trump appointee, with a 5 year term, who will be expected to be loyal to a President with unknown business ties to nations and companies around the world.

Remember – this is not a political issue – this is a people issue.

Don’t’ let anyone suggest to you otherwise.

Call Your Two Senators & Then 3 Members of the Senate Committee

Simply Say:

  1. I am calling to urge the Senator to oppose hearings on the President’s nominations for the vacant FERC Commissioner Seats.
  2. Instead I want the Senator to make it his/her/their top priority to hold hearings into the abuses of power and law being experienced by communities across this nation at the hands of FERC and to identify needed reforms.
  3. Without hearings and reforms FERC will continue to abuse its power and the health, safety and welfare of all decent people here in America.
  4. Installing Commissioners advanced by a President with business interests around the world that conflict with good decision-making and energy policy here in the U.S., particularly one that demands loyalty to himself from his agency heads, is a serious national security risk.

Don’t know your Senators phone number? Find it here: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/senators_cfm.cfm?State=MA

The Members of the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources are:

Democrats:

Senator Maria Cantwell, Minority Ranking Member: 202 224 3441

Senator Bernie Sanders: 202 224 5141

Senator Al Franken: 202 224 5641

Senator Ron Wyden: 202 224 5244

Senator Debbie Stabenow: 202 224 4822

Senator Angus King: 202 224 5344

Senator Mazie Hirono: 202 224 6361

Senator Tammy Duckworth: 202 224 2854

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto: 202 224 3542

Senator Joe Manchin: 202 224 3954

Senator Martin Heinrich: 202 224 5521

Republicans:

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Chair: 202 224 6665

Senator Rob Portman: 202 224 3353

Senator John Barrasso: 202 224 6441

Senator James Risch: 202 224 2752

Senator Mike Lee: 202 224 5444

Senator Jeff Flake: 202 224 4521

Senator Steve Daines: 202 224 2651

Senator Cory Gardner: 202 224 5941

Senator Lamar Alexander: 202 224 4944

Senator John Hoeven: 202 224 2551

Senator Bill Cassidy: 202 224 5824

Senator Luther Strange: 202 224 4124

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Thanks to Maya van Rossum and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network for putting together this call-in.

We Are Seneca Lake Claims Victory; Crestwood Retreats from Gas Storage Expansion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

We Are Seneca Lake Claims Victory; Crestwood Retreats from Gas Storage Expansion


Contact: Jan Quarles (607) 280-7730; Laura Salamendra (315) 759-8880; Michael Dineen (607) 280-2510.

May 10 Geneva, NY—We Are Seneca Lake is celebrating a successful campaign forcing Crestwood’s retreat from plans to expand methane storage in unstable salt caverns along the shores of Seneca Lake.  In a two and a half year campaign, over 650 people from around the region were arrested protesting the Texas based corporation’s plans threatening Seneca Lake.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) had granted a permit for the gas storage project in October, 2014 (which was renewed in May, 2015).

In response to the October 2014 permit, We Are Seneca Lake began protesting in front of Crestwood’s gates as part of a groundswell of community opposition to Crestwood’s project threatening the drinking water for over 100,000 residents living around Seneca Lake. The project put the region’s agriculture and eco-tourism in jeopardy, and would have expanded fossil fuel infrastructure over the growth of green energy jobs. The shaky shale formations in which the caverns are embedded also raised serious geologic concerns.

“I took a stand against Crestwood because we had no choice,” said Laura Salamendra, a member of We Are Seneca Lake in Geneva.  “This is our drinking water, the drinking water of our families.  The project threatened our safety and we couldn’t allow it. We would fight longer than them because it wasn’t about profit, but about protecting one another. We have to do that when government agencies won’t.”

“It takes consistency and dedication, and we had that,” Salamendra continued. “It started small but it grew larger than we could have imagined.”

In the beginning of the movement, 10 activists were arrested in front of the Crestwood facility late October, 2014.  Word spread through the community quickly and mass arrests soon became frequent as grandparents, students, farmers, scientists, contractors, cooks, and those in the wine industry came out to express opposition to the project.  A few celebrities even traveled to the small town of Reading in Schuyler County to add their voices to the chorus. Climate change author Bill McKibben, actor James Cromwell, and filmmaker Josh Fox joined the ranks of those protecting Seneca Lake. In all, there were 657 arrests as part of We Are Seneca Lake’s campaign in front of Crestwood’s gates.

“Don’t think people can’t make a difference,” Salamendra added. “People can prevail.”

“We could not have done this without all the people who stood up to Crestwood when they stood out in the cold, the rain, who were forced to endure hazardous storms, unconstitutional court closures, and a biased judge who ruled us guilty before he even listened to us.  We are so grateful for the assistance of lawyers like Sujata Gibson and all of our Seneca Lake Defenders who stood up to injustice.  This is truly a victory for people power,” said Jan Quarles, another member of We Are Seneca Lake from Ovid, NY.

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FERC Nominees will move ‘as quick as possible’ — Murkowski

Geof Koss, E&E News reporter
Published: Tuesday, May 9, 2017
https://www.eenews.net/eenewspm/2017/05/09/full

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said today she intends to move President Trump’s two nominees to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission through the panel “as quick as possible.”

After months of delay, the White House last night said Trump will nominate Neil Chatterjee, a top energy aide for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Pennsylvania regulator Robert Powelson, who is serving as president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (E&E Daily, May 9).

pic chatterjeeFederal Energy Regulatory Commission nominee Neil Chatterjee on Capitol Hill. Photo by Geof Koss.

Murkowski told reporters this afternoon that she was still waiting for the administration to send over the paperwork necessary for her panel to process the candidates.

“As they come and as we get the paperwork, I want to try to move people,” she said. “The FERC has been without a quorum since early February, and they need the ability to get to work.”

Ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said today that Democrats had submitted a name to the White House for consideration as a replacement for Commissioner Colette Honorable, who announced last week she would not seek a second term.

“We need to get the Democrat out there, too,” Cantwell said today. “The name has been submitted, so it’s up to the White House.”

Honorable has indicated she’s willing to stay on the commission past June if necessary. She would be able to serve until the end of this year.

The Democrats’ pick is expected to be paired with the third GOP vacancy on the five-member commission, a move lawmakers have traditionally employed to ensure independent regulatory agencies like FERC and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are adequately staffed and can act on pending business.

Cantwell said she expects that tradition to continue. She declined to identify who Democrats have recommended to the White House.

Companies FERC regulates have been beating the drum for the president to move with filling the vacancies for months. In a statement today, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Jim Matheson urged the Senate to move quickly on Chatterjee and Powelson.

“There is no reason to delay consideration,” Matheson said. “In fact, the longer the delay, the more daunting the backlog that will face the new commissioners.”

However, in a sign of the political headwinds that have surrounded FERC in recent years, a coalition of state, local and national organizations that are critical of the commission are already calling on senators to reject the two nominees.

“The Trump administration is already demonstrating that it is willing to put the interests of the fossil fuel industry above the health and welfare of communities nationwide, and is willing to push science aside to promote fossil fuels at any costs,” said Todd Larsen, Green America’s executive co-director for consumer and corporate engagement.

“By nominating Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to FERC, the administration is doubling down on a future of fossil fuels for the United States. Both nominations should be blocked.”

Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office Requests Rehearing, Says FERC Violated the National Historic Preservation Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 9, 2017

PRESS CONTACTS:
Anne Marie Garti, Esq, 718 601-9618
Doug Harris, Deputy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, 401 474-5907

Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office Requests Rehearing Says FERC Violated the National Historic Preservation Act

Rhode Island  The Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office (NITHPO) filed a request for rehearing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today, accusing the agency of violating the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) by delaying the study of ceremonial stone landscapes until a year after it issued its environmental assessment of the project and by failing to consult with NITHPO to resolve adverse impacts to over twenty religious and cultural features. This is a breach of FERC’s fiduciary duty to the Indian tribe.

FERC authorized Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, LLC (TGP) to proceed with construction on the Connecticut Expansion Project on April 12, 2017.
FERC’s order said that all the environment conditions had been met and federal authorizations received. NITHPO’s request for rehearing shows that procedures required under Section 106 of the NHPA were not followed.

“Instead of consulting, FERC just told us what TGP was going to do,” said Doug Harris, Deputy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Narragansett Indian Tribe.

TGP’s Treatment Plan calls for destruction and reconstruction of one-third of the seventy-three ceremonial stone landscapes. Mr. Harris characterizes this plan as an act of desecration.

“These are ‘prayers in stone,’ ” he said. “If you take them apart and reconfigure them, then what you have is an artistic replica of something that was spiritual. Once you remove the stones, the spiritual content is broken.”

FERC not only failed to engage in meaningful consultations with NITHPO, it also delayed studying these cultural resources until it was too late to protect them.

“The NHPA requires federal agencies to study cultural resources before they issue a license, so that adverse impacts can be avoided,” said Anne Marie Garti, attorney for NITHPO. “FERC admitted that by the time the survey of ceremonial stone landscapes was performed it was too late to pick an alternative. That means FERC broke the law.”

In addition to its statutory requirements, FERC is obligated to hold government-to-government consultations with Indian tribes. It is not authorized to delegate this duty to TGP or to any other project proponent. Federal agencies are also required to treat tribal resources like assets in a trust. By waiting until it was too late to avoid these cultural resources, FERC breached its fiduciary duty to NITHPO.

Field Report: Bird-dogging at Duke CEO Lynn Good’s House

by Steve Norris

Six of us went to Duke CEO’s home at 5 pm [on May 4th, 2017] and set up a picket on public property next to the road at 2327 Vernon Drive in Eastover Charlotte. This is a quiet street in an upscale neighborhood where old houses are being demolished so that McMansions can be built in their place. Lynn Good’s house is one of those new McMansions, and another one next door to her house is partially framed on a site previously occupied by a smaller house. There is a “For Sale” sign in her front yard.

IMG_1523                           (Greg Yost and Steve Norris in front of Lyn Good’s house.)

When we arrived  Pat Moore knocked on her front door, which was opened by her husband Brian Good, who welcomed Pat, but did not seem pleased at our purpose or the letter which Pat delivered from BXE (a copy of letter is attached). The letter, under the heading Dhoyle Land Services, said in part:

“This notice is to inform you that employees of Dhoyle Land Services will soon be surveying your property at 2327 Vernon Drive in preparation for a pipeline which Duke Energy and Dominion Resources are proposing to install on your property. We are sorry if this in any way inconveniences you. But as you know, even though studies show the gas is not needed, pipelines like this are necessary to satisfy the greed of Duke Energy’s executives and shareholders for increased profits.”

It should be noted that Doyle Land Services, from New Orleans, is the company Duke and Dominion have hired to do their dirty work with landowners on the ACP route. Doyle is known to manipulate, bribe, lie, bully, harass, threaten, and come on private property without permission and remain even when asked to leave.
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During our visit there were two cars in Lynn Good’s driveway. One was a Prius.
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Drivers passing by seemed curious about us and our picket, but no one stopped to complain or to ask for more information. However, a neighbor from across the street talked to us on and off for about an hour, was genuinely curious to learn about the issues we were raising, and took extensive video and photos. Her children spent time with us too.  She thought Brian and Lynn  Good were good neighbors.

About  30 minutes into our visit, Officer Dano of Charlotte Mecklenberg police arrived. We had a pleasant and extensive interchange with him. He was curious about our reasons for protesting. Eventually he told us we would have to leave because of a Charlotte ordinance forbidding pickets and protests in front of residences that lacked sidewalks. We had a 15 minute discussion with him about this ordinance and its meaning, and argued that we had a right to be on public property.  He finally said  we would be issued citations if we did not leave. At that point John Moore politely demanded that we be able to talk to his supervisor. Officer Dano agreed, and we spent another 45 minutes picketing and waiting for the supervisor to arrive. During this time we talked at length to Officer Dano, about Duke, Lynn Good, the ACP, and officer Dano’s work (he had just dealt with a suicide that afternoon and was visibly shaken).

Meanwhile a reporter/videographer from Spectrum TV showed up, shot footage and interviewed us.

Eventually, about 6:30, we decided we had accomplished what we set out to do – to let Lynn Good and her neighbors know that we hold her personally responsible for the damage Duke Energy is doing to North Carolina residents, families, children, communities, environment and the climate. We packed up and left.

All six of us agreed that our visit to Lynn Good’s house was worth the time, effort, controversy and push-back it generated. Some of us may return. We need to find out where she is moving when her house on Vernon Drive sells.