Chatterjee: ‘We’ll see where the courts come down’ on GHGs

Source: Rod Kuckro, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, April 12, 2019

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee yesterday tried to reassure attendees at an energy summit that the agency is striving to reach a bipartisan consensus on natural gas pipeline and liquefied natural gas projects.

“We’re negotiating how to move forward on some of these infrastructure projects,” Chatterjee said at the Columbia Global Energy Summit in New York. “That’s something my colleagues and I are discussing every day.”

The commission’s business on infrastructure effectively has been stalled because of a division among its four members about the extent to which greenhouse gas emissions should be considered and mitigated as projects are approved.

Republicans Chatterjee and Commissioner Bernard McNamee are at odds with Democratic Commissioners Cheryl LaFleur and Richard Glick, who have repeatedly asserted that the commission has the authority and responsibility to consider downstream greenhouse gas emission from projects.

Until last year, the agency did just that.

But in a 3-2 decision in May, FERC rejected its practice of looking at the upstream and downstream impacts of natural gas production under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The decision was tucked into a rejection of a rehearing request of its approval of Dominion Energy Transmission Inc.’s New Market Project in New York.

Oral arguments in an appeal — Otsego 2000 Inc. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — will be heard today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Speaking with reporters yesterday after the event in New York, Chatterjee mentioned the D.C. Circuit arguments.

“We’ll see where the courts come down,” he said. “There are disputes on what FERC’s authority is under the Natural Gas Act. I can speak from my vantage point. I don’t believe the Natural Gas Act gave us that authority.

“Congress would need to make changes to the Natural Gas Act to give us that authority, in my view,” Chatterjee said.

Chatterjee affirmed that he believes in climate change and that it is man-made.

“We need to take steps to mitigate emissions urgently,” he said, without going so far to say that FERC has a role to play.

Chatterjee also said the commission continues to weigh whether to revise its 1999 policy statement on pipeline certification.

The review was launched in April of last year when Kevin McIntyre was chairman of FERC. It includes reconsideration of “the structure and scope of the Commission’s environmental analysis of proposed natural gas projects.”

“I feel pretty good about our current policy, but there are ways we can do our jobs better,” Chatterjee said.

For example, he’d like FERC to do more to consider landowners affected by pipeline projects. “It is not a landowner’s responsibility to be tracking FERC filings,” he said.

“I think my colleagues would certainly raise the issue of FERC’s GHG analysis as well as project needs. I think other colleagues of mine will want to look at ways to make the process more efficient, and so we will continue to work through this and try to achieve consensus,” Chatterjee said.

“But I also want to emphasize that because we’re reviewing our existing policy that in itself is not an indictment of that policy. The existing policy statement is still good law, and it’s still the law of the land today and the way the commission functions,” he said.

Reporter David Iaconangelo contributed.