Marching and chanting with signs like “Gas exports: Worse than Coal” and “FERC: My safety matters,” dozens of protesters launched a week-long picket outside the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. today to challenge the agency’s handling of controversial liquefied natural gas (LNG) export proposals. The picketers are demanding that FERC place a moratorium on its approval of gas export permits until the commission has accounted for alarming new federal data showing that such exports to Asia could be worse for the climate in coming decades than if overseas countries burned coal.
“FERC has provoked this unprecedented picket line by willfully ignoring the unprecedented harm fracked gas exports pose to our climate and to our communities,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “In response to mounting evidence that exporting fracked gas from Cove Point and other sites nationwide will help cook the planet, our nation’s energy commissioners are in effect covering their ears and closing their eyes, while giving a giant thumbs up to the gas industry. Simply put, this must stop.”
Last month, a Department of Energy study revealed that–even when using conservative estimates of planet-heating methane emissions–exports of U.S. fracked gas to Asia provide no climate benefits for decades, if ever, and would almost certainly be worse for the climate over the next critical 20 years than if Asian countries burned coal.
In recent weeks, as opponents of the Cove Point liquefied natural gas export facility proposed in Maryland generated 150,000 comments nationwide against the project, FERC continued to defy health and environmental leaders–and, groups allege, the law–by refusing to conduct a standard Environmental Impact Statement. It also defied U.S. Senators and a U.S. EPA official by refusing to extend the 30-day public comment period for the project. Environmental and clean water groups are poised to sue FERC for illegally dismissing the climate change, fracking and human safety impacts of the proposal in its draft environmental review, which also drew criticism from the EPA.
“Residents living next door to Dominion’s proposed Cove Point facility are coming to FERC this week because we refuse to let this agency sacrifice our safety to the gas industry,” said Tracey Eno, a founding member of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community. “FERC has failed to conduct a transparent, quantitative risk assessment that considers the very real threat of explosions compromising our safety in our own homes due to Dominion’s proposed addition of extremely hazardous liquefaction equipment at Cove Point. It’s clear it will take a citizen uprising to change the status quo at FERC, which is why we’re picketing this week.”
Each day this week groups of picketers from across the region will converge on FERC’s Washington, DC headquarters at lunchtime, highlighting the accumulating evidence that FERC is a secretive and dysfunctional regulatory agency in need of significant reform. Delegations of residents from southern Maryland and Myersville, Maryland will lead the picket Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, drawing attention to the ways FERC has sidelined their voices in reviewing the Cove Point plan and a related gas compressor station in central Maryland.
“From Lusby to Myersville to Minisink and beyond, mothers like me see FERC repeatedly failing to protect the health and safety of our children,” said Ann Nau, vice president of Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community. “With a FERC rubber-stamp in hand, Dominion sued my small town to force a toxin-spewing compressor station on us, defying community and local government opposition. We are here to shine a bright spotlight on FERC’s practices, and to demand a change in course before more communities see hazardous pipelines or polluting compressors in their backyards.”
FERC is facing growing public backlash because of its role in green-lighting the massive expansion of gas pipeline and other infrastructure triggered by the surge of fracking in recent years. In early June, a federal appeals court ruled that FERC had illegally “segmented” its approval of a major East Coast gas pipeline project, and thereby ignored its potential cumulative environmental impacts. This court victory should set precedent for similar legal challenges to FERC’s rubber-stamping of gas industry projects.
“Maryland’s religious communities are heartbroken by the harm climate change is already causing to our neighbors, close to home and around the world,” says Joelle Novey, Director of Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA). “We’re not going to let a Goliath corporation stomp into Maryland and make a mockery of our good work to protect our air, our water, and our climate. We’re picketing outside FERC because we’re trying to faithfully do what David did: we’re giving this our best shot.”
In all, FERC is currently reviewing 14 fracked gas export proposals. The $3.8 billion Cove Point facility, proposed by Virginia-based Dominion Resources just 50 miles south of the White House in southern Maryland, would take gas from fracking wells across Appalachia, liquefy it, and ship it to customers in Japan and India. A CCAN analysis found that, from fracking wells to final smokestacks, the Cove Point project could alone trigger more greenhouse gas pollution than all seven of Maryland’s existing coal-fired power plants combined. The Cove Point project would be the first fracked gas export facility on the East Coast and the first ever built in a densely populated residential area.
View photos of the picket launch at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chesapeakeclimate/sets/72157644914012429.