At BXE we like to say that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the most dangerous organization you’ve never heard of.
Since our founding in 2014 BXE has fought to change that by spreading awareness about FERC and it’s role in the expansion of fossil fuels and natural gas infrastructure projects such as pipelines, compressor stations, and export terminals. BXE has spent years fighting back against FERC with education, disruptive direct action, and mass mobilization. As the anti-fossil fuel, anti-extraction, climate justice, and anti-pipelines movements have gained momentum FERC has become a more familiar foe to grass roots activists.
However, many environmental groups still have never heard of FERC. Others may be dimly aware of FERC’s role in regulating pipelines that cross statelines. Some frontline activists may look in vain to the FERC appeal process as their main hope in preventing construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure in their community. So what is FERC and why does BXE believe that FERC is a key strategic lynch pin in the broader anti-pipeline and climate justice movement?
Below you’ll find the text from our pamphlet “Aim for the Heart!: The Climate Justice Movement and the Fight to Abolish FERC”. If you are looking for more be sure to check out our film FERC Doesn’t Work and the frontlines solidarity guide “Fight Back!: An Intro to Resisting Fossil Fuel Infrastructure in Your Community.”
Aim for the Heart!:
The Climate Justice Movement and the Fight to Abolish FERC
What is BXE?
Beyond Extreme Energy is a network of organizers spread over the eastern half of the U.S. Founded in 2014, BXE has worked to support frontline groups organizing to stop proposed fracked gas and other fossil fuel pipelines and infrastructure. We offer logistical support to groups through our traveling field organizer (Jimmy) and through a small frontlines fund. BXE members are each embedded in their own local area fights, but we join together to fight the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). We have interrupted countless FERC meetings, organized mass mobilizations in DC that shut down FERC, and pushed for FERC to be replaced by a government agency focused on renewable energy and a just transition to a stable climate.
Why Fight Natural Gas?
Many people in recent years have taken up the fight against oil and gas fracking and against new fossil fuel infrastructure because they live in an area where the polluters are active, sometimes literally attempting to frack or lay pipe in people’s backyards or near kids’ schools. Others have taken up this fight primarily because they are very concerned about the deepening climate crisis and want to stop the expansion of fossil fuels and rapidly shift to clean, renewable energy.
Methane gas, mainly fracked gas, is now the biggest single electricity source in the U.S. It’s touted by industry as a “bridge” to a clean energy future, but it’s not. This massive build-out could keep us dependent on fossil fuels for the next 40 years if we don’t stop it. Fracked gas is almost 100 percent methane, it leaks all throughout the production and distribution process, and methane released into the air is 86 times worse for the climate than CO2 over a 20-year time period. The UN body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says we have only half that time, ‘til 2030, to shift gears energy-wise to avoid climate catastrophe.
Air, water and land pollution is bad for the health of those people who live near where it is happening. It is bad in general for all life forms. Horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking) also requires about a million gallons of clean water per fracked well, and despite some reuse of the water in subsequent drilling, it’s dramatically lowering the water table in many parts of the country. It’s completely unsustainable. Hundreds of chemicals are also injected into the earth in the process, some of which cause cancer or birth defects.
For the last decade a shift has been going on from coal as the primary fuel source for electrical power to gas, increasingly and now primarily fracked gas. If we can get the US off its growing gas addiction, which means stopping the new pipelines and compressor stations needed to get gas from wells to where it is burned or shipped overseas, that will dramatically drive the rapid shift needed from all fossil fuels to wind, solar and other clean and jobs-creating renewables. Renewables are already economically competitive with coal and gas, even lower in price in some states. Enacting, one way or the other, a moratorium, or even an on-going disruption, of gas industry expansion would be a very big deal.
We believe that organized efforts to stop FERC’s rubber stamping of permits for the gas industry, to stop fracking and to stop new fossil fuel infrastructure, are absolutely essential, strategic work for everyone who understands that we are in a climate emergency.
What is FERC?
As we say at BXE- FERC is the most dangerous organization you’ve probably NEVER heard of. FERC is the government agency tasked with approving or rejecting permit applications for all interstate gas pipelines and infrastructure. This places FERC at the heart of the fossil fuel system. One would hope that a supposedly neutral government agency such as FERC would act as a straight forward regulatory commission that addresses community, environmental, and climate issues. Yet FERC is essentially a rubber stamping agency for the fossil fuel industry. FERC has turned down only 2 out of over 400 industry applications in the last 30 years. For the full story on FERC we recommend you check out BXE’s Intro to FERC videos. In addition to FERC’s historical rubber stamping of fossil fuel infrastructure, FERC commissioners and staff often have close ties to the industry they are supposed to regulate.
An April 7, 2015 article in Greenwire, Employees negotiate for industry jobs under agency’s eye, exposed the deeper picture: “Employees at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have deep ties to the industry they regulate, according to agency documents detailing their job negotiations and stock holdings. Ethics records throughout 2014 show agency staff seeking employment with grid operators, law firms and utilities that the agency has jurisdiction over and often meets with as it sets new orders and rules. . . The disclosures reflect how FERC, which oversees the interstate transmission of electricity and permitting of gas infrastructure, is regulating an industry that many of its staffers are well-suited for and often courted to work in.”
FERC’s Revolving Door-
If your group is curious about the revolving door between FERC commissioners and the fossil fuel industry, one possible activity would be to explore this interactive map following the careers of commissioners: FERC’s Revolving Door Continues. For more check out these articles 
FERC Supports the Industry-
The BXE videos discuss ways in which FERC offers support for corporations to navigate the permitting process and community opposition. If your group wants a closer look here are two documents detailing the close support FERC has for the industry. FERC Outreach and Suggested Best Practices for Industry Outreach Programs to Stakeholders
Why is FERC a Strategic Target for the Climate Movement?
Most local infrastructure fights begin with a lengthy attempt to engage with the FERC appeal process. But in all cases the appeals fall on deaf ears and construction begins. Practically speaking, we cannot rely on FERC to protect our communities, the environment, or the climate. BXE takes this nuts and bolts realization one step further. We are a movement group that actively targets FERC, aiming to disrupt its workings, discredit its legitimacy, and ultimately to abolish FERC and replace it with a commission focused on developing renewable energy systems. We have interrupted countless FERC meetings, held mass mobilizations and direct actions against FERC in DC, and leveraged our network to challenge corrupt FERC nominees. BXE focuses its fight on FERC as a form of solidarity with frontline struggles. As struggles in local areas heat up, most frontline organizers are too busy with the day to day work of fighting their own battles to put the pressure on FERC. In the movement, part of our role is to do that work, and mobilize the larger movement when the time is right.
Since 2014 we have been successful in raising movement-wide awareness of FERC and the failure of relying on the FERC process in frontline struggles against fossil fuel infrastructure. FERC has five commissioners appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. When there are fewer than 3 commissioners on FERC the permit approval process stalls out. During such a period of FERC being immobilized no new fossil fuel permits are issued nationwide. This stalls the process for hundreds of corporations at once, the equivalent of a massive nationwide action against the dirty energy industry. Likewise, when FERC cannot meet or its commissioners become deadlocked on a decision, the rubber stamping engine begins to malfunction. With Trump in office, this level of administrative dysfunction has become more frequent.
Within FERC there are also growing pushes to question fracked gas as a so-called “bridge fuel.” Currently one of the commissioners, Richard Glick, often votes against proposed new gas infrastructure proposals and commissioner Cheryl LaFleur sometimes joins him in rejecting de facto support for natural gas. In December of 2019 Trump nominated the climate denier and fossil fuel industry insider, Bernard McNamee to FERC. A coalition of movement groups including BXE did major write-in and call-in campaigns, and petitions in the months before the vote. BXE engaged in satirical street theater and disrupted the voting process, resulting in five arrests. In the end McNamee’s nomination polarized the Senate. He was narrowly approved in a 50-49 party line vote. All Democrats opposed, all Republicans approved. This is extremely rare, especially for FERC nominees who are usually seen as hum drum affairs. FERC is currently staffed by four commissioners (two Republican and two democrats). We hope to continue polarizing the nomination process and bring the farce that is FERC into the limelight. As climate justice movements continue to gain traction, we can see the focus on FERC as a key part of the struggle. Addressing FERC must be key to any effective proposal for a Green New Deal.
How you can get involved in the Fight Against FERC
There are many ways to fight back against FERC, and we encourage you to get creative! We suggest interested activist groups screen our video series locally in your own communities to help raise awareness of FERC. There are constantly new pipelines and fossil fuel infrastructure projects in the early phases of development. We suggest getting involved in these struggles if any are nearby to your area. It is important to support frontlines, and especially in the early stages of projects to work with community members to develop strategies that do not rely on the FERC process to stop new infrastructure. By screening the short videos along proposed pipeline routes you can help us undermine FERC claims to legitimacy and develop effective resistance. Here is a link to our Communities Resisting FERC document.
As one video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UexITOF1ds
If you or your group have watched the videos and wants to get involved more directly in the fight against FERC… you can join in! BXE is an open group, so you can join us by hopping on calls and starting to organize. Our calls are weekly at 4PM ET. We are always looking for new folks and insights from local struggles. We’re always gearing up to disrupt business as usual at FERC, so keep an eye out. Direct actions large and small happen in DC regularly. You can check out our past work on our website: https://beyondextremeenergy.org
BXE offers frontline support funds and we have a frontline organizer who offers logistical support. Learn more about getting support for your local fight here!
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Beyond Extreme Energy