Schakowsky, Maloney, Kuster, Tsongas, Lynch Reintroduce Legislation to Boost Public Participation at FERC

May 25, 2017 Issues: Energy & Environment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Ann Kuster (D-NH), Niki Tsongas (D-MA) and Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA) reintroduced legislation to create an Office of Public Participation and Consumer Advocacy at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). As one of the lead agencies responsible for developing energy infrastructure and ensuring reliability of the electric grid, FERC has sweeping authority over the wholesale power markets and ultimate jurisdiction in the federal siting and permitting process for natural gas pipelines. And while FERC’s decisions determine which energy projects are constructed and significantly influence the energy prices consumers pay, private citizens have expressed frustration that participating in FERC’s complex proceedings is extremely challenging. 

The Public Engagement at FERC Act will assist residential and small commercial energy consumers in participating in FERC proceedings, ensuring the public has a strong role in shaping the nation’s energy future. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Al Franken (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

“Consumers deserve a seat at the table when FERC regulates electricity rates or when they approve energy infrastructure,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky. “Those decisions can raise or lower the utility bills for families and small businesses, and they matter for the communities where a pipeline or transmission line is routed. In 1978, Congress recognized the need for public involvement and authorized the Office of Public Participation, yet almost four decades later this office has yet to be created or funded. Our legislation would establish an Office of Public Participation and Consumer Advocacy to ensure that consumers and small business customers are represented in proceedings that affect their lives and their pocketbooks.”

“Safety comes first when it comes to energy infrastructure and folks have the right to make their voices heard during the approval process,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. “I’m proud to join my colleagues to call for a much-needed public advocate to ensure that folks living next door to Indian Point, pipeline projects, or new energy infrastructure, have a champion at FERC and a seat at the table.”

“I’ve met countless times with local community members who have expressed serious concerns that FERC has not adequately taken their viewpoints into consideration,” said Rep. Ann Kuster. “We need to ensure that local communities have a meaningful opportunity to weigh in on the impact of any new energy project that comes through their backyard. I’m proud to support this bill, which will fund the Office of Public Participation within FERC and require the agency to better give constituents a voice in the review process of projects.”

“In recent years we have seen how vital transparency is to reviewing new infrastructure projects,” said Rep. Niki Tsongas. “Public input is necessary for a fair and effective process and this legislation would help protect the public’s right to participation and information. By creating an Office of Public Participation and Consumer Advocacy, we not only give voices to the families most impacted, but we ensure accountability for the agencies, officials and companies involved. I thank my colleagues for their partnership in this effort and look forward to working with them to move this bill forward.”

“FERC’s decision-making has a direct effect on the quality of life and safety of the residents of the 8th Congressional District of Massachusetts and I share their serious concerns about the lack of public input in FERC proceedings. As we’ve seen with the proposal for the West Roxbury Lateral pipeline and the Weymouth Compressor Station, the natural gas pipelines that FERC approves create serious public safety and environmental risks for cities and towns across Massachusetts. Thanks to the collaborative work of my colleagues, Rep. Schakowsky, Rep. Maloney, Rep. Kuster, and Rep. Tsongas, we are increasing public engagement to ensure that local residents have a seat at the table going forward and we are working hard to ensure that the voices of the families we represent are heard loud and clear by FERC,” said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch.

In 1978, Congress authorized FERC to create an Office of Public Participation under the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) that would assist public and consumer advocates in intervening at FERC. While the authorization has been in effect for nearly 40 years, the Office of Public Participation was never created. The Public Engagement at FERC Act would update and strengthen the 1978 PURPA language to better ensure that the Commission is making decisions that are in the best interest of those who will be most impacted.

Specifically, the Public Engagement at FERC Act would:

  • Establish an office that would directly participate in FERC proceedings on rates, service, and infrastructure siting to represent the interests of residential and small commercial consumers.
  • Employ directed outreach methods, such as consultation services and technical assistance, to ensure the interests of the public are adequately represented at FERC.
  • Create a Public and Consumer Advocacy Advisory Committee for the office composed of representatives from the national and state-based nongovernmental consumer advocacy community.
  • Prepare reports and issue guidance for potential improvements to industry and FERC practices to better incorporate the public voice.
  • Provide intervenor funding to individuals or small commercial energy consumer groups to encourage their participation in FERC proceedings.