Schakowsky, Shaheen, Maloney, Kuster Introduce Legislation To Give Energy Consumers A Voice In FERC Proceedings

May 26, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) and Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) released the following statement after introducing legislation, H.R. 5348 the House companion to Senator Shaheen’s legislation in the Senate, to create an Office of Public Participation and Consumer Advocacy at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC):

“Consumers deserve to have a seat at the table when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulates the sale of electricity and natural gas or when they approve energy infrastructure,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-09). “Those decisions can raise or lower the utility bills paid by families and small businesses and they matter for the communities where a pipeline or transmission line is routed. Today consumers have a limited ability to have their interests represented. In 1978, Congress recognized the need for public involvement and authorized the Office of Public Participation, yet 38 years later this office has yet to be created or funded. This legislation would establish an Office of Public Participation and Consumer Advocacy to ensure that consumers and small business customers are represented in proceedings that affect their lives and their pocketbooks. It is time to give consumers a stronger voice.”

“FERC’s decision-making greatly affects American citizens and small businesses, yet residents in New Hampshire and across the country continue to experience frustration in participating in the agency’s complex proceedings,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). “Public participation is a cornerstone to our democracy, whether it’s in Congress, local politics or federal agencies. The Public Engagement at FERC Act would establish a needed avenue to shepherd public involvement and consumer advocacy in our nation’s energy regulation and power system, ensuring that the agency’s decisions are in the best interest of those who will be most affected.”

“My neighbors in the Hudson Valley share my belief that safety must come first when it comes to energy infrastructure and that communities have the right to make their voices heard during the approval process,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18). “I’m proud to join my colleagues to call for a much-needed public advocate to ensure that folks living next door to Indian Point, pipeline projects, or new energy infrastructure, have a champion at FERC and a seat at the table.”

“I’ve met countless times with local community members who would have been impacted by the Kinder Morgan pipeline – a proposed natural gas project in our New Hampshire – and what I heard time and time again was that FERC was not adequately taking their viewpoints into consideration. This is simply unacceptable,” said Rep. Annie Kuster (NH-02). We must ensure that any time a new energy project will have a significant impact on local communities, members of that community must not only be heard, but also given power to influence the final outcome of FERC’s decision. That’s why I’m proud to join with Senator Shaheen and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky to introduce this bill, which will help revive and restructure the Office of Public Participation within FERC in order to require the agency to better involve constituents in the review process. I urge my colleagues to support this Shaheen/ Schakowsky bill.”

In the almost forty years since its establishment, FERC has evolved into one of the most powerful federal agencies with sweeping authority over power markets, and the final say in energy infrastructure projects with substantial environmental and economic impacts. And while the decisions of FERC significantly influence the price of electricity, natural gas and oil that consumers pay, as well as impact energy infrastructure siting, private citizens have expressed frustration that participating in FERC proceedings is extremely challenging.

In 1978, Congress authorized FERC to create an Office of Public Participation under the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) that would assist public and consumer advocates in intervening at FERC. While the authorization has been in effect for nearly 40 years, the Office of Public Participation was never created. The Public Engagement at FERC Act would update and strengthen the 1978 PURPA language to better ensure that the Commission is making decisions that are in the best interest of those who will be most impacted.

What the Public Engagement at FERC Act Will Do

  • Establish an office that would directly participate in FERC proceedings on rates, service, and infrastructure siting to represent the interests of residential and small commercial consumers.
  • Employ directed outreach methods, such as consultation services and technical assistance, to ensure the interests of the public are adequately represented at FERC.
  • Create a Public and Consumer Advocacy Advisory Committee for the office composed of representatives from the national and state-based nongovernmental consumer advocacy community.
  • Prepare reports and issue guidance for potential improvements to industry and FERC practices to better incorporate the public voice.
  • Provide intervenor funding to individuals or small commercial energy consumer groups to encourage their participation in FERC proceedings.

This legislation is endorsed by Public Citizen and the National Association of Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA)