Regulatory decisions about America’s bounty of natural gas are in the hands of an obscure and understaffed federal agency with a limited mandate to think about climate change.
Why it matters: With America’s production of oil and natural gas soaring and Congress not acting on climate change, the once-sleepy Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is finding itself at the center of protests and lawsuits.
- Interviews with all 4 FERC members illustrate their division over how to handle greenhouse gas emissions.
Driving the news: Democratic FERC commissioner Richard Glick wants to require companies seeking approval for pipelines and LNG export terminals to offset GHG emissions, similar to the way companies compensate for more traditional environmental impacts like creating wetlands.
- Natural gas is cleaner than coal and oil, but as a fossil fuel it still emits heat-trapping emissions.
The other side: “I just fundamentally disagree with Commissioner Glick on this matter,” said Neil Chatterjee, the panel's Republican chairman. “The approach the commission has been taking is what we are statutorily obligated to do.”
Where it stands: Chatterjee pointed to the commission’s February approval of a gas export terminal, calling it a “breakthrough” because it was the first in two years and because it listed the GHG emissions associated with the project. (Glick dismissed the move as "window dressing.")
“I’ve been out there as a Republican from Kentucky and as a Trump appointee talking about climate change and the need to mitigate emissions. And if we can’t have a rational conversation about the role that U.S. LNG exports have in reducing global carbon emissions, I don’t think we’re ever going to get pragmatic solutions in this area.”— Neil Chatterjee
Between the lines: FERC's relatively limited legal authority is in the economic realm and rests largely on two nearly century-old laws — the Federal Power Act and the Natural Gas Act — that aren't environmentally focused.
- It's also short-staffed. Normally, it should have 5 commissioners — today it's at 4 and about to drop to 3.
- Democratic commissioner Cheryl LaFleur has struck the most centrist position and has often cast the commission’s tie-breaking votes. On this, she supports Glick's idea.
What's next: LaFleur is resigning next month, at which point the two GOP commissioners will have a clear majority and be able to approve controversial projects over Glick's opposition.
Go deeper: Read the whole column.