Senate Energy Committee Disrupted for Second Time Over Trump FERC Nominees

Washington, DC

A group of environmentalists disrupted the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources as it attempted to vote on two key Trump nominees to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). It was the second time in two weeks the Senate Committee was disrupted by environmentalists.

Three activists representing a coalition of 170 groups were arrested early Tuesday after interrupting the Committee vote, delaying it for a brief time. Ted Glick and Sid Madison, environmental activists from New Jersey, and Jess Rechtschaffer, an activist from New York, were arrested and charged with incommoding and blocking an exit during a Senate hearing. Glick was also charged with resisting arrest and held overnight and will be arraigned Wednesday.

Video of Senate disruptions.

Both Rechtschaffer and Madison paid a $50 post and forfeit fine and were released a short time later. By posting the fine, they admit guilt and avoid a court hearing.

Sid Madison being arrested during the Senate Energy Committee Hearing by Capitol police. Photo: BXE

The Senate Energy Committee meeting ended after voting 20-3 to forward the nominees anyway. The approvals of Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson, who have worked as fossil energy insiders, will come to a full Senate vote. Three Senators, Mazie Hirono, Bernie Sanders, and Ron Wyden were the only votes against the nominees.

The final full Senate vote will be scheduled sometime next week and will include consideration of two other controversial Trump nominees. David Bernhardt will be considered as Deputy Secretary of the Interior and Dan Brouillette will be considered as Deputy Secretary of Energy. It is likely the final Senate vote will see disruption as well.

At issue is FERC’s near 100 percent approval of fossil energy infrastructure projects, which are linked to fracked methane gas wells across the country. The activists say these projects are harming community livability standards by polluting water, air and rendering their farmlands unusable, while putting the fossil industry interests before community health.

Jess Rechtschaffer (L) and Sid Madison hold fists of resistance after they were released by police. Photo: BXE

The fossil energy projects span thousands of miles through hundreds of counties nationwide, involving eminent domain land grabs of private properties. Pennsylvania has been hit particularly hard as gas companies are presently operating over 7,700 fracked gas well projects across the state. The FERC approved pipelines and compressor stations are connected to the wells by feeder lInes, further damaging the environment, say the activists.

Ted Glick was arrested and held overnight. Photo: BXE

Last Thursday four activists were arrested, and another was detained briefly. They were charged with disrupting a Senate Hearing. All have been released with one having a future court date.

The activists are challenging FERC for what they call its long standing “Rubber Stamp” policy of approving virtually every project vetted by the Fossil industry, regardless of affect on communities. Activists have challenged the Energy Agency over its cozy relationship with the fossil energy industry since 2014. They are now focusing on the Senate and fighting to change U.S. Energy policy at its administrative roots for what they call an addiction to fossil fuels.

Activists are escalating tactics in order to reach other branches of government involved in energy policy. “Neither Democrats nor Republicans in the Senate have been willing to protect the public from pollution, poison, climate change, or eminent domain seizures of land that result from FERC’s rubber-stamping of fracked-gas infrastructure,” said Melinda Tuhus, on behalf of the coalition of groups focused on climate change and pollution and public health.

Jess Rechtschaffer during an action outside FERC in 2015. Photo: John Zangas

Since February, FERC has been without a quorum necessary to approve gas infrastructure projects. The coalition urged the Senate to stand up for the public before approving new FERC commissioners.

“We’re going to continue resisting FERC and now that its commissioners are in the Senate approval process we’re going to resist them there as well,” said Jimmy Betts, an organizer and activist with the coalition.

“With today’s committee vote, Senators handed another gift to the fossil fuel industry, missing a crucial opportunity to resist Trump’s reckless agenda,” Price For Oil, an energy watch group, published on its web site.
“Concerned citizens thrown out of today’s committee vote in protest were standing up for a just future, and Senators voting for these nominees are on the wrong side of history,” said David Turnbull, Campaigns Director at Oil Change International.

Last week the Trump Administration backed out of the Paris Climate Accord, throwing into doubt any U.S. commitment to growing global climate concerns.

Activists protest at FERC in 2015 with an 80 foot banner. Photo: John Zangas

Coalition climate activists have steadfastly fought U.S. energy policy and the fossil industry by interrupting monthly meetings at FERC since 2014.