Activists Turn FERC Fake 'Public' Meetings Into People's Hearings

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Public meetings on oil and gas infrastructure have become a major problem for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as people in communities turn out to express their concerns and opposition. The public meetings have become a place where people can organize their communities to stop oil and gas infrastructure.

Public opposition has become the major problem for the oil and gas industry and when that opposition gets mobilized the people can slow, delay, increase costs and stop infrastructure from being built. At these hearings people learn how the industry is threatening their neighbors with having their land seized by eminent domain. They learn about the unfair deals being offered for land and why the deals are not good for landowners. They learn about neighbors farms, crops, orchards, water and live stock being hurt by carbon infrastructure. They hear stories of other communities hurt by the oil and gas industry. People get educated, organized and mobilized — that means trouble for the industry.

In 2016 FERC began to recommend steps the industry should take to prevent community organizing. One approach has been to turn public meetings where people speak out and hear from their neighbors into non-public meetings. People are ushered into one-on-one meetings with officials or industry representatives so that no one else hears their testimony. This keeps people isolated and feeling alone, not realizing they are part of the majority of their community and not giving people the opportunity to discuss these issues with their neighbors. This is becoming an increasingly common tactic.

Steve Norris of Beyond Extreme Energy reports how a community in North Carolina responded to this tactic being used for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP):

FERC scheduled one-on-one isolating and dis empowering listening  sessions in doubletree hotel in Fayetteville, home of Fort Bragg a huge military base.  So APPPL and CWFNC and others organized public hearings next door in a Rodeway Inn. A multiracial multigenerational group of native Americans, Afro Americans, Latinos, whites, veterans, farmers, long term and recently inspired activists came together to challenge Duke and dominion’s $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline. There will be other people’s hearings on Tuesday in Wilson,NC and Wednesday in Roanoke Rapids, NC TO challenge FERCs plutocratic attempt to bully the people and ram this monster through.

The ACP is proposed to be a nearly 600 mile highly pressurized gas line from West Virginia to North Carolina, including a compressor station in Northampton County, Virginia.

In Roanoke on February 15, FERC is trying the tactic again and Concerned Citizens of Northampton County, Clean Water for NC have scheduled a People’s Hearing, nearby. The local newspaper, the Roanoke News Herald, is reporting

The public is urged to attend the FERC sessions to give short oral comments to FERC staff, then to join the nearby public meetings sponsored by local organizations.  At these “Peoples’ Hearings” the public can learn more about the pipeline’s impacts and share comments with others in your region.

The concerns of the community are being made public to prepare for FERC and the People’s Hearing: “Summaries of key concerns will be posted at cwfnc.org and FrackFreeNC.org on Friday, Feb. 10.

We hope communities across the country duplicate this approach and turn the industries fear of people organizing into an opportunity for people to organize.

 

  • mwildfire

    We saw the West Virginia and Pennsylvania Departments of Environmental protection try this gambit at least ten years ago. The only reasons to participate in public hearings is to get standing for later lawsuits, and to generate community resistance. It’s not as though the public officials care what the public thinks–they already know they are going to grant all the permits regardless of what is said. I went to a meeting organizers–who works for the Sierra Club–wasn’t having any. He called out, “How many here want to have the public meeting the old way, where we can all hear each other?” Every hand went up, except the table where the coal industry lobbyists sat. “How many want to do it one-on-one?” The one table all raised their hands. “Since the overwhelming majority want the old format, that’s how we’re doing it,” he said, and the OSM guys didn’t try to fight it.

  • glenn

    I saw this anti-democracy technique piloted nearly 20 years ago at the beginning of the Philadelphia gentrification agenda. True public meetings were eliminated and replaced by tightly controlled “dog and pony shows.” The public was limited to 1 minute statements, which must remain inside the topic opened, or the person would be interrupted and silenced. (e.g. What do you like most about our plan?)
    Any individual dissenting, in any way; or simply asking banned questions would be invited to private “coffee meetings” to be properly “educated” about the plans made by experts. After the coffee meeting, personal attacks would be unleashed against any continuing “troublemaker.” Coinciding with the elimination of true public meetings, the University of Pennsylvania began hosting and supporting a censored listserv for the neighborhood, while civic association leaders used personal attacks against dissent or questions posted on the open neighborhood list, until it was destroyed.
    The combined attacks on democratic processes succeeded in my neighborhood, when the neoliberal agenda was popular among the middle class 15-20 years ago. Most people remained silent about the new anti-democratic processes promised to “revitalize” the neighborhood.
    I firmly believe only a dedicated movement to bring back democratic processes to the neighborhoods can reverse the neoliberal agenda! We need to establish real general assemblies, at the neighborhood level, and end the power of fee based civic associations, which are bought off by the power brokers. A tiny group of vetted partners are anointed as the “representatives of the community” to serve the neoliberal agenda and corporate power centers.
    Local journalism and open discussion forums need to be nurtured to replace the current propaganda model of corporate journalism covering neighborhood issues. We are isolated and expending all energies on single issue actions, which are easily defeated over the long term.
    Taking the long term approach of establishing democratic processes and demanding power for these, brings out the best in citizens and ultimately leads to progressive policies in all areas. Allowing secrecy and a criminal ethic over us, demoralizes the people and is our worst enemy. Organizing to establish true democratic processes must become a primary focus for activists, so that we can win all the fights and keep the progress for the long term.
    We were powerfully beating back the neoliberal agenda in my neighborhood, until the democratic processes were destroyed. Real democracy and inclusion of all becomes very progressive and leads to good policies. The only thing which scares our rulers is real democracy because the lies and bullying can’t stand up under the light of functioning democracy. This is an important report for people to consider!