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FERC picks up where it left off, tackles backlog


The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission renewed its monthly meetings Wednesday, with commissioners applauding efforts that kept the agency moving through its workload during the unprecedented six-month lapse of a quorum and acknowledging the still-hefty backlog of draft orders awaiting their decisions.

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"To say first part of this year until my friends arrived was an odd and unusual time at FERC would be an understatement," said Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, who steered FERC through the quorum lapse, directing staff to ready draft orders for consideration.

"I think Chairman [Neil] Chatterjee and his team are doing an excellent job mowing down the considerable backlog that we have," she added. The new commissioners have faced hundreds of backlogged draft orders.

Chatterjee for his part told reporters after the meeting, "our primary focus is to work through the backlog and we continue to do that."

FERC has approved 158 notional orders, which are those requiring votes, since its last meeting in January, he said. In addition, staff has issued 200 orders under the new delegation authority allowed by a special order since February. Some 68 of those were subject to further commission order, according to a staff presentation Wednesday that cataloged the work FERC has done during the quorum lapse.

Chatterjee indicated there may be a pause before major policy matters idling before the commission are decided.

"I think FERC speaks loudest when it speaks with one voice, and for some of the major issues before the commission, it would certainly be my preference that we tackle those when we do have full strength."

Amid uncertainty about when the Senate will act on the confirmations of two pending nominees, he said, "We're prepared to move some of these major issues if the arrival of our colleagues is delayed in some way."

Related: Find more content about Trump's administration in our news and analysis feature.

For her part, LaFleur said work on key policy matters is like "the part of the duck underneath the lake that moves furiously but you can't see it." Policy offices have worked to analyze and frame options for dozens of rulemakings, generic proceedings and dockets with significant policy implications on such matters as Order 1000, the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act and hydropower licensing terms, she said.

The incoming chairman appeared more keen on prompt action on major infrastructure decisions, as projects become ripe for action.

"If they are ready to go and we have the votes to approve them, there's three of us here. If we've got the votes, we can move forward," he said, while adding that having a full slate of commissioners is still the preference.

Some major natural gas pipelines are coming are nearing the point in the FERC review process when a decision is expected, a fact not lost on protesters who held a small rally outside the agency Wednesday. Some held "stop fracking pipeline signs" and others held signs specifically targeting the Atlantic Coast or Mountain Valley pipelines, two projects nearing a decision. Protesters also briefly interrupted the monthly meeting singing "We Shall Overcome," and calling out before being led out of the meeting room.

One of those protestors, Maya van Rossum of Delaware Riverkeeper Network, challenged commissioners on the pipeline approvals. "You are upset about climate change -- You are here today to continue the approvals of devastating fracked gas pipeline projects."

Chatterjee in his opening remarks acknowledged those people impacted by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and made reference to Hurricane Maria making landfall in Puerto Rico, adding FERC would continue monitoring the situation.

He held to the position expressed by FERC leaders in recent years, when questioned on the protestors' contention that FERC signoffs on natural gas pipelines could exacerbate climate change.

"I would stress that the commission doesn't promote projects. We simply evaluate the applications that are submitted to us," he said.

--Maya Weber,

--Edited by Richard Rubin,