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Critics Charge FERC Biased Against Local Pipeline Opponents

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Critics say the federal agency with the power to allow pipeline construction is oriented not to take into account the concerns of people along the route. (Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition)
Critics say the federal agency with the power to allow pipeline construction is oriented not to take into account the concerns of people along the route. (Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition)
 By Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA, Contact
May 23, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. - The federal agency that approves or denies gas pipelines is oriented against the concerns of landowners and communities, according to people working on the issue.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will decide on the huge pipelines competing to bring natural gas through West Virginia and Virginia to eastern markets.

Spencer Phillips, chief economist with Key-Log Economics, studied the impact of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). He estimates it will hurt folks along the line to the tune of more than $8 billion.

But Phillips says FERC is not designed or inclined to consider those costs.

"FERC's approval process for the Mountain Valley Pipeline is really a rigged game," says Phillips. "The agency's procedures themselves, as well as their track record, mean that ignore some really important cost to people and communities."

According to a Washington lawyer who specializes in cases like these, FERC's orientation is built into its legal DNA.

Carolyn Elefant, an energy attorney in D.C., says the 1930s Natural Gas Act was passed at a time when the government wanted to encourage development of needed infrastructure.

She says it gave regulators the power to use eminent domain to overcome landowner opposition. So, Elefant says FERC now assumes if most landowners make a deal with the developers, the folks along the line have received fair compensation.

"That's very inaccurate," says Elefant. "Many times people enter into the agreements because they feel like they have no choice, they're not going to be able to fight a huge gas company, and they figure they might as well take what they can get."

Elefant says the federal agency may seem intimidating to ordinary folks. But she stresses that even when it seems that way, it's still worth trying to make your case the same way pipeline developers do.

"You'll see a steady stream of pipeline companies represented by former commissioners, coming in and out of current commissioners' offices to talk up a project," she says. "Individuals have that right too."

The pipeline developers argue the lines are justified to meet future public demand for gas in North Carolina and coastal Virginia. FERC says it does balance impacts and demand when determining overall "public convenience and necessity."

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