Way back in 1978 Congress amended the Federal Power Act to include an Office of Public Participation (OPP) under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The OPP was given the mandate to coordinate assistance to members of the public intervening in FERC proceedings, as well as provide reasonable compensation for costs of intervening. However, it wasn’t until just last year that Congress directed FERC to report by June 2021 on it’s progress toward establishing the OPP.
Now we have an opportunity to tell FERC exactly what kind of assistance they should provide to make public engagement less complicated and reduce the barriers to participation. Really though, FERC needs to undergo an entire culture shift to focus on actually listening to the public, valuing and practicing transparency, and catering less to utility companies. Below are some suggested talking points and instructions for submitting your own comments to FERC.
Suggested Talking Points
FERC needs to shift its culture to ensure meaningful public engagement:
- “Tell the truth and follow the law.” That was the famous advice of U.S. Forest Service chief Jack Ward Thomas as he led his embattled agency to a new relationship with the public. FERC must break old habits to build new trust with citizens affected by its decisions.
- Be transparent. Provide citizens with access to all the information they need to understand the questions before us. Explain your decisions, policies, and goals in clear language that lays out their legal, regulatory, and factual bases. When you get something wrong, correct it.
- Listen. FERC has a longstanding reputation for paying close attention to what utilities want while ignoring the public’s concerns. Change our experience by changing your behavior.
- Solve problems, don’t make them worse. Environmental justice delayed is justice denied. FERC’s stagnant policies give utilities enormous leverage to maintain conditions which harm vulnerable communities and ecosystems. FERC should adopt relicensing processes which promote functional and timely solutions to the harms its licensees cause.
- Keep utilities at arms’ length. By adopting and maintaining procedures that aren’t grossly tilted toward its utility clients, FERC can put citizens on a more equal footing.
- Focus on the public interest. Energy lies at the critical intersection of issues which challenge and must transform our society over the next several decades. FERC must lead decision making in a number of different arenas by focusing on an understanding of the public interest that goes beyond simply providing electrical power at the lowest feasible cost. Environmental justice, protection and restoration of ecosystems damaged by hydroelectric development, and building a national and global economy that will halt our contributions, and limit our vulnerability to climate change all must be integrated into FERC’s decisions.
Specifically, FERC’s Office of Public Participation should:
- Dramatically simplify FERC’s complex commenting process.
- Designate staff to provide technical assistance in engaging with FERC proceedings.
- Provide financial assistance for legal consultation, expert witnesses, and other outside assistance required for effective advocacy on FERC projects. This should be a simple grant process with high approval rates, or clearly articulated need-based thresholds.
- Provide general educational resources about FERC projects and processes. At present, the Commission lacks even basic resources, like a text-searchable Frequently Asked Questions document.
- Clearly communicate which docket items are open for comments and discussion. Streamline the use of subdockets. Give interested parties the right to intervene in subdockets where critical decisions are made.
- FERC imposes strict deadlines on parties that deal with the Commission, but routinely delays its own processes without any explanation. Clearly articulate timelines for FERC processes, then follow them.
- To improve public information about FERC projects, OPP should sharply limit overuse of Critical Energy Infrastructure Information (CEII) classification, which keeps critical information about FERC projects out of the public eye.
- OPP can measure its effectiveness by regularly surveying commenters and interested parties.
- OPP should report its results publicly on the primary FERC website.
How to file your comments about the Office of Public Participation:
- If you have never commented to FERC before, click here to eRegister. Be sure to click Next at the end to proceed to full registration.
- You will receive an email, click the link to validate your email address.
- Click here to sign in and submit a comment through the eFiling process.
- Under filing type, select “General > Comment on Rulemaking > Comment”, click Next.
- Enter Docket Number “AD21-9” and click Search.
- Click the blue plus sign to select “The Office of Public Participation”, click Next.
- Upload your comments, click “Next”.
- On the screen to Specify Filing Parties, select “As an Individual”, click Next.
- Enter your email and click “Add as Signer”, click Next.
- Verify your information and click Submit.