U.S. and global greenhouse gas emissions are still on the rise, as the United Nations and even historically fossil fuel-friendly organizations like the International Energy Agency are calling for no new fossil fuel infrastructure to be built. An urgent transition away from fossil fuels must be undertaken if the world is to have any hope of cutting emissions 50 percent by 2050, or risk massively destructive environmental impacts.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, is the U.S. body tasked with reviewing applications for interstate gas pipelines and related infrastructure like compressor stations and liquefied natural gas export terminals. Beyond Extreme Energy, or BXE, is a small nonviolent direct-action group that over the past nine years has disrupted business as usual at FERC to draw attention to the agency’s close ties with the fossil fuel industry and the fact that over the past 30 years, the agency has only turned down only 2 permits, while approving more than 400 other projects.
More recently, BXE has developed a proposal to turn FERC into FREC, the Federal Renewable Energy Commission, through congressional action and has also researched the extent of emissions produced by FERC-approved projects. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Andy Hinz, a member of BXE, who as an IT specialist for the federal government, worked 25 years at FERC. Here, he discusses a policy that FERC commissioners adopted last year that considered the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on energy infrastructure project applications and the consequences when that policy was revoked.
ANDY HINZ: In February, FERC issued an interim policy and they were going to start applying that policy. Then there was no waiting, there was no roundtables. They were going to start using that interim policy. And in that interim policy, they were going to consider the impacts of the greenhouse gases, both upstream and the combusted.
If it was over a certain amount, they were going to require it to be remediated and, you know, they were going to do various things and that their interim policy also applied to projects that had already been permitted. So, in other words, the Mountain Valley Pipeline. If that interim policy had been left in place and the greenhouse gas analysis for the Mountain Valley pipeline that they did turned out that it was just too damaging for public health, for public safety, then that permit would’ve been revoked.
The impact is that since Sen. Joe Manchin basically took control of FERC, took control of FERC’s agenda and made them retract that interim policy, they’ve approved you know, many, many projects.
And so we wanted to know how much it was, and it’s at least 76 coal plants. So that’s like FERC just went and built 76 coal plants in the middle of a climate emergency. We’re not supposed to be building any coal plants. We’re supposed to be building solar and geothermal and wind. We can’t keep building this fossil fuel infrastructure. It’s going to kill — it is killing us. It’s killing people.
Now, the streams of moisture that is streamed into California, that’s streamed across New York and and killed people in Buffalo. So people are already dying because we have too much greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. So it’s not like, oh, a little bit more is okay. And this wasn’t a little bit more, this was 70-80 coal plants that FERC is saying, “Okay, let’s keep burning. Let’s just burn, baby burn.” It gets a little bit frustrating. The cognitive dissidents that we seem to have in our society. I can’t believe that people are not storming the halls of government and telling them to stop. I mean, we’re killing the planet. We are reducing our chances for survival if we don’t stop. We’re not gonna survive this and we can’t afford to keep building coal plants.
MELINDA TUHUS: To be clear, we’re not really building coal plants. You said equivalent. So it’s, it’s pretty much like frat gas, um, methane plants and related infrastructure, right? That’s the equivalent of what coal plants would be emitting.
ANDY HINZ: Yes, definitely. So yeah, so we calculated all of the methane, the fracked gas that FERC has been approving, and the dekatherms from that. Once you get to that number, then EPA publishes formulas that let you convert that to other measures that people understand. Because when you say 280 million tons of greenhouse gases, you know, what does that mean? So that’s why it’s 76 coal plants or a million coal cars. It’s all the same amount of greenhouse gases. It’s just different ways of visualizing or different references so that you can comprehend, you know, the amount of it.
MELINDA TUHUS: And Joe Manchin as the Senate chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee for Congress is the one who has the power basically over FERC. And you said that he told FERC commissioners that they better not do what they were starting to do. There was an action on Jan. 19 at the FERC headquarters in Washington, where Beyond Extreme Energy activists got together and were calling for three things, I think. So can you just outline what those three things were and for full disclosure, I am also a member of Beyond Extreme Energy, but I wasn’t able to make it down to D.C. for this particular action. So just tell us what happened there.
ANDY HINZ: Yeah. So the first demand is the Congress needs to pass legislation to replace FERC with a Federal Renewable Energy Commission — FREC. That’s something that BXE has been advocating for since 2019. The second demand is that Sen. Schumer and President Biden remove Joe Manchin as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. And the third demand is that staff and employees at FERC must resist Manchin. It is these government workers we were speaking to directly the other day, telling them not to approve new permits or turn a blind eye to climate and environmental justice impacts.
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