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pipeline of least resistance

Here’s why pipeline companies almost always get their way.

When it comes to pipeline propositions, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has the power to say “yea” or “nay” — the thing is, it hardly ever says “nay.”

Out of hundreds of pipeline proposals in the past 30 years, FERC has only rejected two, according to a big investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and NPR’s StateImpact Pennsylvania.

FERC grants eminent domain to pipeline operations, allowing companies to proceed with construction regardless of landowner cooperation. While the agency is tasked with ensuring that pipelines have minimal impact and serve the public interest, its process tends to favor the industry.

Consider the following takeaways from the investigation:

  • FERC favors chats with energy companies. Records show that FERC officials met with industry reps 93 times from mid-2010 to 2016, while they met with environmental and public interest groups 17 times.
  • Public interest? Pshhh. Despite congressional requests and a formal petition for an Office of Public Participation — first proposed in 1979 to promote public interest — FERC hasn’t put effort into making it happen.
  • The agency often delays appeals for pipeline approvals for so long that gas is already flowing through the pipeline by the time the case gets to court. This has occurred seven times since 2015.

Update: The House voted Wednesday to pass two bills concerning pipeline approvals. One designates FERC as the lead agency for interstate gas pipeline permits, while the other gives the agency responsibility to grant permits for pipelines that cross international borders, removing the need for presidential permits in those cases.