by guest blogger Maya K. van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper
A fast-growing web of interstate pipelines to service the fracked-shale-gas industry is creeping across the nation, capturing communities in its destructive grip. At the center of the web is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an agency that is imbued with extraordinary power to impact lives and approve environmental damage that will span generations.
Once FERC approves a fracked-gas pipeline, it anoints the pipeline company with the power of eminent domain, allowing the pipeline industry to take control of private property, public parks, preserved forests, and preserved lands. Once approved by FERC, pipelines are also exempted from state and local laws for protecting communities' health, safety, and environment that apply to every other industry, which means the impact of their damaging footprint is far greater than many expect. The construction and operation of pipelines inflict significant harms on the communities they cut through, including reducing crop yields on farms, polluting air and water, bringing down forests, undermining local business, and forcing families to live next to the constant threat of pipeline accidents and explosions.
FERC's extraordinary level of power over the lives of the public and our environment requires unbiased and careful reviews of pipeline projects to ensure they are actually serving a public need. The builders' responsibilities should include avoiding unnecessary harm, dealing fairly with impacted communities and property owners, and fully complying with laws that do apply.
So far, this hasn't been the case.
According to Delaware Riverkeeper Network research, FERC has only ever denied one proposed natural-gas pipeline (one that was not submitted by energy companies). There's not a single other federal agency that has an approval rate this close to 100 percent. Also, meetings where pipelines are approved allow for no public comment.
In addition, our research shows that FERC has never issued a civil penalty for violations related to construction activity for any pipeline project. And yet, we know for a fact from reviewing agency records and our own monitoring that violations during construction border on the routine.
All of these pipelines are for a fracked-gas energy source that experts on all sides of the issue say will first begin to decline around 2020 and be in serious decline by the year 2040.
It's time that the public asks for an independent examination of FERC to identify necessary reforms. We need senators who serve on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to request such a review from the Government Accountability Office (GAO)--senators such as Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
There's no defense for harming lives and the environment for purely private industrial interests.