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Protest at Massachusetts home of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Member Cheryl LaFleur



On Saturday July 13th, climate justice activists from Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) held a protest outside Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) commissioner Cheryl LaFleur’s home in Wellesley, Massachusetts. LaFleur is a former National Grid executive vice president and acting CEO of National Grid USA. She also chaired FERC, which is the independent government agency responsible for regulating any energy project that crosses state lines, including all major natural gas and oil pipelines. The activists dropped a banner that read, “You can’t be neutral on a burning planet,” and demanded that LaFleur vote no on all new fossil fuel infrastructure at the next FERC meeting in Washington, DC.

Outside the MA home of FERC commissioner Cheryl LaFleur

Climate activists have long pointed out that, although FERC is supposedly a neutral agency, it has only rejected 2 out of 400 projects seeking permits in the last 30 years. BXE activist Sam Delaney complained that, “FERC has no system for evaluating the impact of new fossil fuel infrastructure’s greenhouse gas emissions or cumulative effects of climate change on communities. This is unacceptable conduct for a government agency tasked with protecting communities and regulating the energy industry. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released a report that indicates we have less than 11 years to prevent catastrophic climate change. We cannot lock our national energy grid into decades more of fossil fuels such as natural gas and oil. We must take steps to move to 100 percent renewables as quickly as possible.” 

LaFleur has been identified as the critical “swing vote” on issues of natural gas within FERC, a position she has lamented in recent articles. LaFleur has taken steps to include greenhouse gas emissions data in the FERC process, but has been reluctant to vote against projects based on these data. She stated in April to industry news source UtilityDive that “Despite my considerable and even growing concerns about the commission’s current approach to analyzing climate impacts in these cases, I’m trying to supplement that analysis myself and decide case-by-case so I don’t become paralyzed into dissenting in every case because I don’t like the way the commission is doing it.” A recent DC court ruling has demonstrated that FERC should be gathering data on greenhouse gas emissions and regulating based on climate impact, which leaves LaFleur in the position of having to take next steps in voting based on climate analysis. LaFleur’s term at FERC ends in August. To those engaged in anti-pipeline battles and climate justice movements, this is her last chance to do the right thing. 

Outside the MA home of FERC commissioner Cheryl LaFleur

The BXE action comes just days after the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection re-approved an air-quality permit for a proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth. The facility, which has met with strong, sustained opposition from a broad coalition of activists, medical professionals, and politicians, is a vital part of the Algonquin Gas Transmission and Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline project. Its main players are Enbridge, Eversource, and National Grid with the ultimate goal to export LNG to the world market via the Pieridae liquefaction facility in Goldboro, Canada.

The energy geopolitics of this fossil fuel dinosaur dance are complicated. United States exports to China are threatened by the LNG tariff imposed by China in the ongoing trade war. Also the European Union and Russia are players in this LNG war.

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A local concern is that the current developments in Weymouth, Massachusetts, may signal the resurrection of the plan for a second expansion of the compressor station on Wallum Road in Burrillville. At the same time, serious questions remain about fracking and its extremely short-lived and rapidly expanding network of greenhouse gas leaking, groundwater polluting wells. Those problems have dogged the fracking revolution for nearly a decade. As the Wall Street Journal has been reporting recently, investors in the fracking industry are suffering from serious buyer’s remorse in spite of the rapidly developing, destructive technology.

[All but last three paragraph are based on a BXE press release.]

Peter Nightingale is a theoretical physicist and teaches at the University of Rhode Island. He strives to leave behind a more just, peaceful, and sustainable post-capitalist world for future generations, and for his children and grandchildren in particular.