Activist Group Plans ‘Rebellion Against FERC’ For Fossil Fuel Work

Above Photo:  A crowd gathered in the cold near Wall Street on Friday to call for New York’s divestment from fossil fuels. (Flickr / 350)

When it comes to stopping the permitting of natural gas pipelines and LNG terminals, some groups feel driven to drastic action.

“The rebellion against FERC is one aimed at radically transforming how energy is produced, transported and used in this country,” Beyond Extreme Energy organizer Lee Stewart said.

Many groups that oppose fossil fuels in the U.S. to protect the environment and communities conduct their fight under rules laid down by FERC and federal law, challenging gas infrastructure in the commission’s review process for energy projects and afterward in federal court. But Beyond Extreme Energy and allied groups have said the rules do not work for opposition groups. Turning to other methods, they have shouted at FERC meetings and organized a February campaign that delivered anti-gas messages to the homes of FERC commissioners. And they plan to increase such activities. Beyond Extreme Energy sees no penalty for breaking the rules if it is done without violence.

“The only negative consequence of disrupting business as usual at FERC is if we fail,” Stewart said in a March 11 email. “Business as usual at FERC is leading to the destruction of communities and the climate.”

Stewart does not regret posting commissioner’s addresses on the Web in the February campaign, called the FERC Valentine Project. “As one of our supporters said in response to criticism of BXE for peacefully delivering flowers and Valentines to the commissioners’ homes: ‘It would seem it’s all right for the corporations to show up at your house, cut your trees, dig up your yard and pollute the planet, but it would be a shame to annoy the commissioners,'” Stewart said.

“The urgency of the climate crisis and the need to protect front-line communities’ health and well-being means that nonviolent direct action is an essential component of Beyond Extreme Energy’s work,” he said.

FERC has stayed silent on the Valentine Project, but in response to earlier protests, Chairman Norman Bay increased security at meetings and, with other commission officials, encouraged stakeholders to use public comment opportunities in the permitting process rather than take direct action. And FERC continues to operate across all its missions, including granting certificates to gas projects.

From the point of view of Beyond Extreme Energy, however, the protests and the Valentines are having an effect at FERC. Stewart said commissioners are being asked to respond to issues raised by pipeline opponents. He pointed to a February interview with Bloomberg Markets in which Bay was asked about people disrupting commission meetings.

“The exact mechanisms that will make this happen are less important than building a movement with enough power to make the demand impossible to ignore.”
–– Beyond Extreme Energy organizer Lee Stewart

“His response was less than satisfying — he reasserted the legality of FERC’s actions — but just the fact he was asked these kinds of questions, and is being asked more regularly, shows our movement is gaining ground and will soon start to see more tangible results,” Stewart said.

‘Transcend what is politically feasible’

Some observers, including former FERC Commissioner Marc Spitzer, have said groups like Beyond Extreme Energy are making a mistake when they aim their protests at FERC. The commission is required by the Natural Gas Act to permit energy infrastructure that can demonstrate a need and that can meet environmental and safety standards. Instead, he said, the groups could try to make changes in Congress that turn the country away from fossil fuels. But Congress is as unresponsive as FERC, Stewart said.

“Change in the United States comes when massive movements rise up to challenge business as usual,” Stewart said. “Because Congress is unresponsive to the people, it would be wrong to limit ourselves to those things which are politically feasible. We must transcend what is politically feasible and instead do what is necessary. Our lives and livelihoods are threatened by the negative impacts of fossil fuel extraction and use. It’s absolutely necessary that fossil fuels, including fracked gas, be kept in the ground, both from a climate perspective and an environmental justice perspective.

“It is also absolutely necessary that FERC stop issuing permits for fracked gas infrastructure,” he said. “The exact mechanisms that will make this happen are less important than building a movement with enough power to make the demand impossible to ignore.”

Collaboration

Beyond Extreme Energy supports other groups such as the Delaware Riverkeeper Network that are challenging FERC in Congress and the courts, Stewart said. Stewart’s group wants to build alliances with other groups and “collaborative, strategic action-planning.”

“It’s about building collective power,” Stewart said.

The FERC Valentine Project was an example of this kind of collaboration, the activist said. Beyond Extreme Energy worked on the campaign with groups in New England, where Spectra Energy Corp and Kinder Morgan Inc. are developing pipeline projects. Many more campaigns will come, he said. Beyond Extreme Energy and other groups are planning one called the Rubber Stamp Rebellion from May 16 to May 20.

“Not only will we confront FERC commissioners in Washington, D.C., but we will also challenge the industry it works for in multiple locations around the country,” Stewart said.