WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) – the entity that oversees the U.S. electric grid, gas pipelines, hydropower dams and more – will conduct a public workshop on its new Office of Public Participation.
Friday’s hearing will allow FERC officials to hear from experts and stakeholders about how the office should be structured and function. Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, who pushed the agency to establish the office, is among those FERC invited to testify. Slocum will offer several recommendations at Friday’s hearing, including that the new office conduct extensive outreach to and engagement with communities affected by federally regulated energy projects. Slocum will also recommend that FERC financially compensate members of the public and public interest groups who act as intervenors in commission proceedings and FERC-sanctioned activities.
“A well-resourced, fully funded Office of Public Participation that includes authority to financially compensate public interest organizations for the cost of appearing before FERC would be transformative,” Slocum said. “It would finally place the public interest on even footing with energy corporations in regulatory proceedings.”
If provided enough resources, the Office of Public Participation will give members of the public greater opportunity to be heard when major energy projects are undertaken in their communities. It should also help address social and environmental justice concerns that have often been ignored. The office could also help citizens better navigate the powerful agency’s often arcane regulatory processes.
“Many corporate utilities already recover from consumers their costs associated with intervening at FERC,” said Slocum. “We’re simply asking FERC to provide us the same resources they’ve provided to utilities. We seek equal treatment.”
The new Office of Public Participation must have a robust budget to function effectively, which is why Slocum will also suggest that it hire at least 50 full-time staffers, including a director and deputy director, environmental justice managing director, attorneys and others.
Public Citizen has led efforts to establish an Office of Public Participation at FERC for more than fifteen years. Language in a December 2020 Congressional appropriations committee report directed FERC to develop a plan for the new office by June 25, 2021.
FERC is accepting public comments on the structure of the Office through April 23.