By Rich Heidorn Jr.
WASHINGTON — Despite changing its meeting date to avoid threats of mass demonstrations next week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission couldn’t avoid another protest drama Thursday.
FERC instituted a new policy that forced all non-employees — lawyers, lobbyists, reporters and protesters — through a lengthier and more rigorous-than-normal security screening that included photographs. After receiving a paper ID badge and going through a metal detector, the known protestors were directed left, while the others went right to the escalator to the second-floor Commission Meeting Room.
When the protestors were informed they would be quarantined in a commission hearing room where they could watch video of the meeting, they began chanting “Shut FERC down!” (See video.) While organizers claimed the protesters numbered three dozen, only about 15 appeared in a video the group shot after being ejected.
Suits, not T-shirts
Among them was Ted Glick, national campaign coordinator at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, who wore a suit rather than the red T-shirt he and other protesters had worn in previous meetings. (See Protests Continue — on Camera — at FERC.)
About 20 minutes into the meeting, as the commission was discussing a ruling on an Order 1000 compliance filing, the protesters apparently exited the hearing room. The protesters’ chants were audible — if not discernible — in the meeting room until they were escorted out of the building.
FERC Chairman Norman Bay joked, “I hope the protesters haven’t moved from pipelines to Order 1000,” prompting laughter.
But at least three protesters slipped the dragnet and were able to make brief statements before being escorted out.
The first two, Patty Cronheim of Hopewell Township, N.J., and Angela Switzer of Delaware Township, N.J., stood up to protest the proposed PennEast Pipeline. The 36-inch pipeline would deliver about 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day from Luzerne County, Pa., to Transco’s pipeline interconnection in Mercer County, N.J., 108 miles away.
“You’re destroying lives, you’re abusing eminent domain,” Switzer said before being led out of the meeting. “This is corporate greed over public need.”
Switzer said afterward she is concerned the pipeline, which would cross her 60-acre farm, could result in contamination of her water wells. “I live in an arsenic-rich zone and there’s a chance when they drill through the bedrock they’re going to release arsenic into my wells,” she said. “… FERC is not listening to us.”
The backers of the project — AGL Resources; NJR Pipeline Company; PSEG Power; South Jersey Industries; Spectra Energy Partners; and UGI Energy Services — are hoping for FERC approval in 2016.
A third protester, Maggie Henry, of Bessemer in Western Pennsylvania, stood up as the meeting was adjourned, shouting “In the shale plays of Pennsylvania, you are killing people!”
In a press conference afterward, Bay turned serious, reading a statement in which he criticized the repeated meeting interruptions as “disrespectful” and ineffective.
“I respect the First Amendment rights of the protesters and I want to hear their views. But there are ways to do that and there are ways not to do that,” he said. “The way not to do it is to disrupt our proceedings. In my view the disruptions are disrespectful, they violate the law [and] they can pose public security concerns. They often violate the ex parte rule. They prevent us from doing our work and it’s a turnoff. It’s ineffective and unpersuasive as a matter of advocacy.”
Bay also noted that the commission does not regulate the production of natural gas. “If someone is upset with fracking, they should probably talk to the states. If I had any advice for the protesters it would be this: tell them to reconsider what they’re doing and I would urge them to stop disrupting our meetings.”
FERC acknowledged that it had rescheduled the meeting at the recommendation of Federal Protective Services, which wanted to avoid demonstrations planned for the week of May 21-29, including the scheduled May 21 session. Beyond Extreme Energy, the organization that has been coordinating the FERC protests, had said it is hoping to attract more than 500 demonstrators to FERC during the week.
In November, about 100 climate change protesters blockaded FERC headquarters, snarling traffic on First St. N.E. About 25 were arrested.