This op-ed was originally published by The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.
These days, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can no longer be described as a technocratic, under-the-radar agency that sets policies on energy infrastructure and market rules, rates, and standards.
As energy policy has become front-page news — driven by climate change and recent price volatility — FERC has begun updating its regulations to meet new exigencies. The agency has taken big steps this spring to support affordability and a transition to cleaner energy, including proposing updates to the way it permits natural gas pipelines and beginning to overhaul how regions plan and pay for the expansion of electricity transmission infrastructure.
These moves have provoked controversy because their stakes are high: Billions of dollars of infrastructure expenditures are on the table. What gets built, who pays, who hosts this infrastructure, and who makes those decisions also have major implications for equity and racial justice.
In 2017 the residents of Union Hill, Virginia, a predominantly Black community settled by freed slaves in the aftermath of the Civil War, witnessed this firsthand. Over their objections FERC approved plans by the developer of the controversial Atlantic Coast natural gas …