By Michael Brooks
WASHINGTON — Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Cheryl LaFleur called an unscheduled recess to the commission’s monthly open meeting Thursday due to a series of interruptions by protesters from environmental group Beyond Extreme Energy.
LaFleur began the meeting after allowing a speaker from the group to voice its grievances over FERC’s approval of natural gas and oil projects, something that has become a regular occurrence at the past few meetings. However, she was continually interrupted by members of the group. After about 10 minutes of continuous interruptions, and chants of “FERC doesn’t work” and “If not FERC then who,” LaFleur adjourned the meeting while security cleared the room of protesters.
The group’s members, who usually wear red T-shirts with “FERC Doesn’t Work” emblazoned on the front, have become increasingly emboldened over the past few months. Notably, the group in November led a march of climate change activists from the Capitol building to the commission’s front doors, blocking employees from entering. Last month, a member wearing a Santa Claus hat sang “Jingle Bells,” with the lyrics changed to protest FERC’s activities.
The disruption last week, however, was by far the most heated. One FERC staff member quickly pulled away a banner that protesters were attempting to hold up. As security cleared the room of the protesters, it began asking attendees if they were a part of the group. One activist, who was sitting with members of the press and taking video of the meeting, was physically removed by security. FERC does not allow photography or video to be taken at its open meetings, except by its own photographers.
LaFleur said the protests have the commission and its staff vexed.
“This is relatively new territory for FERC, and I think we’re a bit learning on the job on how to handle situations like this,” she said.
The activists who spoke came from different states and took issue with the commission’s approval of natural gas pipelines, storage facilities and export terminals, such as Dominion Resources’ Cove Point LNG in southern Maryland.
“People and animals in some of these areas are dying from diseases caused by these processes,” said Kathleen Hale, the activist who spoke before the meeting. “And others have been uprooted from farms and from communities where their families have lived for generations and are losing their land to large swaths taken by eminent domain for unneeded pipelines.”
Before adjourning, LaFleur tried to tell the protesters that they have opportunities to file comments in dockets and attend scoping meetings, where the public is able to comment on FERC’s environmental impact statements and assessments of infrastructure projects. It’s clear from the activists’ speeches and protests, however, that they feel their comments have fallen on deaf ears. One protester shouted back to LaFleur, “Your meetings are a joke!”
“Our actions are peaceful, coordinated and, as is the case for the growing movement in our country, the result of too many years of everyday people not simply being misheard, but being overtly ignored by elected officials and various colluded private business entities,” Jimmy Betts, one of the speakers who interrupted the meeting, wrote on PopularResistance.org. He vowed that the protests would continue.