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No Green New Deal Without a Transformed FERC


How, most practically, are we going to solve the climate crisis? Without question, electrification of transportation, heating and cooling, combined with electricity generated by wind, solar and other renewable energy sources, is the primary way we can do it. That is how we can turn the fossil fuel industry into a whisper of its current self.

Electric cars and trucks, electric heat pumps for heating and cooling, rapidly growing wind and solar technologies — these are ALL HERE NOW, and prices are coming down. They’re already down, a better, or similar, deal economically than dirty fuels, when it comes to wind and solar. WE CAN DO THIS.

So whatever government agency is regulating and overseeing the US electrical grid, setting and enforcing the rules for a new, 21st century, renewables-based grid, is a very big deal. Who is that agency? Since 1978 it has been FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

To FERC’s credit, as I understand it, they have made decisions in recent years that have incrementally opened up the grid for renewable energy and battery storage so that they can compete on a pretty level playing field. This is a good thing, no question.

However, FERC has another responsibility which they have completely blown. One of its mandated functions is to decide whether to grant permits for new interstate gas pipelines and other gas infrastructure. Over the last three decades, there have been over 400 gas industry applications for such permits and only two – two! – have been turned down. It’s a rubber stamp agency!

If you are opening up the grid to renewables but, at the same time, actively promoting a buildout of fracked gas infrastructure, including 10 approved permits for gas export terminals so far and potentially 10 more, sending this climate-disrupting stuff around the world, you might as well be working for Exxon. Just in the last month and a half they have approved three permits to build new gas export terminals.

Gas is not a bridge fuel to renewables. It’s a dirty and dangerous, immediate competitor.

We need to replace FERC. As part of a Green New Deal FERC should be transformed, renamed and repurposed. It is time for FERC to be replaced by FREC, the Federal Renewable Energy Commission.

A transformed FERC would not be a revolving door industry with the fossil fuel industry. An investigative article in April, 2015 in Greenwire summarized it this way: “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. In addition, FERC employees have held stock in or remain part of pension plans from companies that can be affected by the agency’s work.”

Leaders and employees of a new Federal Renewable Energy Commission must be personally and professionally committed to the historic task of shifting rapidly from fossil fuels to renewables. Leaders should be chosen not based upon their ties to the fossil fuel and nukes industries but their experience with and commitment to renewables.

FREC’s new purpose must be made explicit in a new mission statement which includes language to the effect that it will lead the urgent work of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and shifting to a renewable, jobs-creating, justice-based and energy efficient power grid and economy.

As distinct from the way FERC operates, potentially impacted and proximate communities must be notified from the very beginning of planning processes for proposed new and/or expanded energy infrastructure. They must be given sufficient support, including funding, to enable them to fully participate in decision-making processes.

FREC’s funding stream must not be dependent on fossil fuel industry “fee-for-service.” Right now ALL of FERC’s budget comes from fees on industries which have business before FERC. It is in the financial interest of FERC to have as much business with them as possible. Given the power of the fossil fuel industry, this encourages corruption and pro-industry bias.

We need FREC yesterday! But we’re not going to get it until 2021, at the earliest, with a new Senate majority and President who are not climate deniers. In the meantime we need to keep building the movement opposing FERC, fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure, using every nonviolent tactic in our arsenal on behalf of our polluted and threatened communities and the wounded earth.

Ted Glick has been a progressive activist, organizer and writer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick.

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