Environmentalists Disrupt Senate Energy Committee Hearing Over Trump Nominations

A woman covers her ears at Senate confirmation hearing after a noise device was set off.

Washington, DC

Five environmental activists disrupted a Senate hearing on Thursday as Senate members of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources met to consider two nominees to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) activists disrupted the hearing because they say the nominees, if appointed, would continue a trend of approving every fossil fuel project FERC reviews.

The Committee met to consider the Trump Administration nominations of Neil Chattergee and Robert F. Powelson. Both are fossil fuel energy supporters. There have been three commission vacancies at FERC since February. The agency cannot vote on new energy projects without a quorum.

***Video by DC Indy Media of activists disrupting the Senate Energy Committee Hearing.***

The five BXE activists were quickly removed from the Senate hearing by Capitol police. Among them was Lee Stewart, an organizer with BXE, who had chained himself to a chair and was dragged out still attached to it. It took three Capitol police officers to remove him. As he was dragged away he repeatedly yelled, “FERC hurts families, FERC hurts towns, shut FERC down,” temporarily interrupting the hearing. An activist simultaneously set off a sound device nearby, stopping the hearing. The dramatic incident was caught on video and continued into the hallway outside the hearing room.

Cathy Strickler, another activist who sounded off, also stopped the hearing. “I am compelled to disrupt this hearing because I have seen the destruction that climate change causes,” she said. As she was led away a Capitol police officer videotaped her arrest.

BXE protesters demonstrate outside of FERC headquarters./Photo by John Zangas

Four of the protesters were arrested, while one was detained. Strickler was the only one released from custody Thursday afternoon after paying a $50 post-and-forfeit fine. The others were held over night. Ellen Barfield from Baltimore and Randy Fenstermacher from Massachusetts were also arrested. All four were initially charged with disrupting a Senate hearing. But at their arraignment on Friday, the charges were dropped for all but Lee Stewart. Stewart was also charged with destruction of government property, involving his attachment to the chair. His court date is set for June 26.

Strickler spoke from her home in Virginia Thursday evening. “The fossil fuel industry has a stranglehold on the Senate with the money it gives to control the political process,” she said. Strickler is concerned that energy policy cannot begin to change toward renewable options as promised in the Paris Climate accords, while FERC and the fossil fuel industry lobby controls Congress.

BXE has been battling FERC over its approval of virtually every fossil project put before it by the gas industry. As a result, BXE activists have nicknamed FERC the “rubber stamp agency.” The activists also say FERC has totally disregarded the impact its approvals are having on families, farms, businesses, and communities while the gas industry rolls out a massive methane gas infrastructure across the country. BXE also takes issue with an established cause and effect relationship between pipelines, compressor stations and the environment and the second order effects of methane emissions on global climate.
FERC Commission nominee Neil Chattergee was a senior energy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He opposed green energy initiatives and fought to eliminate EPA carbon standards enacted by the Obama administration. Robert F. Powelson served on the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission and is largely seen as a supporter of the fossil fuel industry.

BXE activists have been posing as major irritants to FERC meetings and hearings by staging “popcorn disruptions” at monthly public meetings. They have also hounded commissioners from state to state to disrupt or cause cancellations of meetings wherever they hold engagements. They have disrupted over two dozen FERC monthly meetings in one way or another since 2014, resulting in hundreds of arrests.

Strickler said that BXE is not ending its protests anytime soon. “No social change can happen without people getting arrested,” said Strickler.