By Michael Brooks
WASHINGTON — Citing safety concerns, FERC closed its monthly meeting to the public Thursday, allowing only staff, guests and credentialed members of the press inside commission headquarters.
The meeting was broadcast via the Internet, which Chairman Norman Bay said allowed the commission to meet its “statutory requirement” under the Government in the Sunshine Act to allow the public to observe the meeting.
“The decision to conduct this open meeting by webcast only was not made lightly,” Bay said. “It was made after consultation with law enforcement and our security staff, and the primary concern was preserving the safety of the public and commission staff. The webcast allows us to maintain the ability of the public to observe and listen to the commission meeting.”
The decision to close the meeting — possibly the first time the commission has held a webcast-only open meeting, according to Bay — came amidst a week of intense protest activity by environmentalist group Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE). Members of the group demonstrated outside the homes of Commissioner Tony Clark on Monday and Bay and Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur on Wednesday. They were also already camped outside commission headquarters prior to the start of the meeting but had departed by the time the meeting ended.
“I, too, find it unfortunate that we had to decide to restrict access to the building today,” Clark said. “But it was done with the consultation of law enforcement and I understand why. If you look at the room in the headquarters building, it’s simply not designed to handle the activities that were being discussed, and when decisions like this are made, public safety has to come first.”
Bay declined to say what activity the commission was expecting to take place. BXE’s modus operandi is to interrupt meetings with statements criticizing the commission’s approval of natural gas infrastructure before being escorted out by security. Known members have been barred from the meeting room, relegated to a side room to watch the meetings on TV. (See Meet the People Making Life a Little More Difficult for FERC this Week.)
Melinda Tuhus, a Beyond Extreme Energy spokeswoman, said that the group was not going to do anything different in the meeting room beyond their normal interruptions. She said there were about a dozen protesters, out of the 50 to 60 total, at the rally outside FERC on Thursday who had never attended an open meeting.
“The commissioners know that we’re nonviolent activists,” Tuhus said. “That’s a fundamental precept of our organization. … The commissioners know that.”
Tuhus speculated that the commissioners overreacted to the demonstrations outside their homes. “We made absolutely no threats.”
Last week, Bay had to be escorted out of the Independent Power Producers of New York’s annual spring conference when protesters rushed the stage while he was holding a question-and-answer session.
During the protest outside FERC headquarters, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the HipHop Caucus criticized President Obama, California Gov. Jerry Brown and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for supporting fracking. “They are not climate leaders until they realize we must transition to 100% renewable energy,” he said.