One federal body has the power to decide whether a pipeline is needed. FERC—the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission—issues a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to a project it approves. The commission’s “statement of policy” says that it must consider “the enhancement of competitive transportation alternatives, the possibility of overbuilding, the avoidance of unnecessary disruption of the environment, and the unneeded exercise of eminent domain.” FERC requires separate examination of the impact on landowners and surrounding communities and the impact on the environment.
In a speech before the National Press Club, Cheryl LaFleur, then the FERC chairwoman, offered some insight into how this works in practice. “Market demand and … contractual commitments for pipeline capacity,” she said, “determine what pipeline infrastructure is needed.”
How much do public comments matter? Noting that “pipelines are facing unprece-dented opposition,” LaFleur said, “we have a situation here. We take the views of all stakeholders seriously and try as hard as we can to thoroughly consider issues that are relevant to the decisions we’re required to make. But FERC’s responsibility under the National Gas Act, because we’re a creature of Congress, is to consider and act on pipeline applications after ensuring that they can be built safely and with limited environmental impact.”
Critics assail FERC for being too ready to approve projects. U.S. Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren has said, “I am very concerned about a regulatory agency that is only able to say ‘yes, yes, yes.’ That’s not the job of a regulatory agency.” —H.M.