These talking points summarize the reasons why BXE and 247 other organizations support the replacement of FERC with FREC, a Federal Renewable Energy Commission.
Why does the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) need to be replaced by a Federal Renewable Energy Commission (FREC)?
FERC has been dominated by the fossil fuel industry over the last 20 years, rubber stamping methane gas infrastructure, and operating with a revolving door between FERC and industry stakeholders. It cannot just switch off this institutional bias.
We are in a climate crisis—the need to replace fossil fuels with clean renewables is urgent. But local people and communities must be actively involved from the beginning as far as proposed new projects and be part of the decision-making for the projects. Despite the Biden administration and Chairman Glick’s recent commitments to consideration of climate and environmental justice impacts, FERC’s history of eminent domain abuse and the continuing difficulties communities have communicating with FERC show a need for deeper structural and legislated changes.
Why can’t these changes be done via reforms to FERC?
Congress needs to mandate a new mission of affirmatively driving an urgent, community-involved shift to renewables. A decisive break with past FERC practice, and its culture shaped by the fossil fuel industry, must be legislated in order to avoid backsliding by future Commission leadership.
Many had high hopes for FERC reform when President Biden appointed FERC Commissioner Richard Glick to be FERC chair. Commissioner Glick had been an outspoken opponent of the labyrinthian nature of the FERC process and the lack of climate analysis in regulatory policy. For years he voted against unnecessary fossil fuel developments and made public statements critiquing the agency.
Glick has proven his personal sincerity as Chair of FERC. Under his guidance FERC began to focus on the creation of environmental justice standards, an Office of Public Participation, greenhouse gas emissions standards, and transmission overhauls.
However, as detailed extensively in our 2021 FERC Year in Review– these internal reforms are weak and contradictory. By his own admission Glick has indicated that without major changes in structure and legal mandate, FERC must continue to operate under current policy, no matter how archaic or limited.
Furthermore, the changes created by one progressive Chair can easily be undone by subsequent Chairs. In February of 2022, FERC announced new policy documents overhauling FERC’s natural gas regulatory policies. These policies had not been updated since 1999 and predated commercial fracking. In March Joe Manchin and Republican Senators tore into Richard Glick at a special Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meeting. Glick and the other commissioners have put on hold the new policy enacted in February. There are concerns that they will bend to the Manchin/Republican pressure and weaken or reverse it.
The history of FERC reform is short and melancholy. The failure of even weak reforms has proven that without a complete change in structure and mandate, FERC will remain incapable of addressing climate change as an agency. In advocating for FERC to be dismantled and replaced by the Federal Renewable Energy Commission, we are seeking to side step these failed strategies.
Is there a precedent for dismantling such an important agency and the creation of a new one?
Yes! This is exactly how FERC itself was created in 1977! The Federal Power Commission (FPC) was created in 1930, to formalize energy regulation policies from the 1920s. In 1977 Congress deemed the FPC was ineffective and enacted the Department of Energy Organization Act to dismantle the FPC and create the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
44 years later, FERC sits amongst the wreckage wrought by the fossil fuel industry and failed energy policy. FERC has played no small part in the fossil fuel buildouts that destroy our communities, our health, and our planet. FERC- like the FPC before it- must be deemed ineffective. Ineffective, and dangerous. We need a Federal Renewable Energy Commission that can address the climate crisis- with the tools of the 21st Century.
Would FREC still be led by five commissioners, one of whom is the chair appointed by the President?
Probably. Political independence with accountability is necessary. However, decision making and planning needs to be pushed down to the community level; commission decisions must be community supported, at a minimum, if not community driven.
Would there be any new requirements to be nominated as a commissioner?
Yes. Appointees would have experience related to renewables and a history of respectful community relationships required to champion renewable energy without political constraint or personal conflicts of interest.
Why would FREC no longer be funded solely by industry fees?
Industry funding creates dependency on continuing expansion of the industries being regulated and implicitly disadvantages many stakeholders who must participate in the transition to a sustainable grid. Also, accountability will be improved by changing the source of fees. Appropriations hearings could have surfaced the long-suffered eminent domain abuse practiced by FERC.
Why won’t an Office of Public Participation and commitments to consider climate and justice impacts when siting projects be enough to deliver energy justice?
Planning and decision making must prioritize the involvement of affected communities. With an appropriate legislated mandate FREC will facilitate, support, and nurture, from the beginning, planning, siting, and pricing that brings together local, municipal, state, regional, and industry stakeholders–driven by community-led planning and involvement in decision-making. FREC will bring federal and other resources to actively encourage transparent, community-led planning for new, renewable energy infrastructure to replace polluting fossil fuel infrastructure.
What do we mean by “renewable” energy?
Wind, solar, moving water (tides, waves, currents) and geothermal. If it is a finite resource, you burn it or cannot reuse its byproducts, it is not renewable. Nuclear, incineration of any kind, biomass, and chemical recycling are not renewable.
What would happen to existing fossil fuel and other non-renewable energy infrastructure once FREC is created?
One suggestion is the creation of a FREC office: the Fossil Fuel Sunsetting Agency. Such an office’s sole purpose would be maintaining the safety of aging and abandoned infrastructure as it is replaced with renewable infrastructure through the efforts of communities, FREC, and industries. However, FREC would facilitate the process of determining financial liability for stranded assets. Currently corporations abandon a great deal of fossil fuel infrastructure, which continues to cause pollution and contamination.
What is the relationship between a new FREC and the idea of a Green New Deal?
Beyond Extreme Energy’s realization of the need for FREC was inspired by the GND and the urgency of the climate crisis. The grid must be reconfigured and regulated equitably to support the goals of the GND.
Chairman Glick seems to be in lockstep with administration climate plans, including Build Back Better. Why don’t we just let FERC do its work?
If the United States is to give the leadership needed for the worldwide transition to efficient energy systems powered by renewables and battery storage, it is a job not just for industry and government but for an informed and active citizenry. A growing number of organized local efforts are already giving leadership toward a clean and just energy future, but many more need to do so. FREC would affirmatively take the initiative to multiply the number of engaged and legislatively empowered local partners planning their new, jobs-creating, non-polluting energy infrastructure.
Isn’t the real issue at hand the corrupt maneuvers of Senator Joe Manchin?
Joe Manchin has certainly played an outsized role in the failure of Biden’s Build Back Better plans and manipulated FERC Chair Richard Glick into towing the line of the fossil fuel industry. However, structural limitations have drastically hemmed in internal reform within FERC. The agency was designed in the late 70s to smoothly facilitate the development of a functional energy system based on fossil fuels; it has no structured mandate capable of addressing climate change, rapid transfer to renewable energy, or issues of environmental justice.
The creation of FREC within a modern mandate to directly address emissions, decarbonization, renewable energy, battery storage, DERs, and transmission is necessary to place the agency beyond the machinations of individual politicians. Like the energy grid itself, FERC must be completely changed.