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Commissioner Blog: CPUC Tells FERC Climate Change Must be Considered in Infrastructure Projects

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By Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen

Climate change is an enormous problem that the California Public Utilities Commission and other California policy makers take very seriously.

Our ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and a host of innovative state policies and programs are all designed to mitigate the impacts of climate change and protect our environment and planet even as the state's economy continues to grow at a healthy pace.

So, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) earlier this year announced that it would restrict its review and public disclosure of climate change and greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts in considering whether it is in the public interest to approve proposed new pipelines, my fellow Commissioners and I were concerned.

In 2016, FERC began examining the climate change impacts of GHG emissions from construction and operation of proposed new pipelines that came to FERC for review and certification. FERC's review was part of a broader effort by the Obama administration under the National Environmental Policy Act, (NEPA) to study and disclose GHG impacts from a variety of federal government activities.

But after President Trump issued an executive order last August on environmental review of infrastructure projects, FERC signaled its intention to no longer review the GHG and climate change impacts of new pipelines and sought comments from interested parties.

CPUC lawyers filed our comments with FERC on July 25, 2018.  In our filing, we maintain that FERC "can and must consider environmental factors including the impact of GHG emissions as part of the balancing of public benefits against residual adverse impacts . . ."

And we went on to say, "In assessing whether a project is in the public interest, FERC can consider the most accurate estimates of emissions, best practices, relevant climate goals for the region, and specific climate impacts associated with a project."

These seem like obvious points if you recognize the damage climate change is already causing and the need to take action to limit future impacts. We see the impacts every day in California with prolonged drought, a wildfire season that now seems to last all year, rising sea levels, and other extreme events that come from our  use of fossil fuels.

The solution to these impacts is not to bury our heads in the sand and ignore them. We need to evaluate and understand them, so we can do our best to mitigate the impacts and try to make our future safe, healthy, and sustainable. 

Read our most recent blog postings in the sidebar at right.

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