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Steve White

As gas prices and energy costs continue to skyrocket, now is not the time to block clean American energy projects — but that’s exactly what government energy regulators tried to do. Thank goodness Sen. Joe Manchin stood up to stop them.

Most West Virginians have probably never heard of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This national energy regulator may be obscure, but it has the unchecked power to affect our everyday lives. Tasked with approving and regulating interstate pipelines, the five-person commission has the authority to greenlight or kill entire energy infrastructure projects. In recent years, the commission, whose members are nominated by the president, has become increasingly political. Things reached a boiling point recently, when three members of FERC tried to ram through a policy that would have made building natural gas pipelines almost impossible.

The punishing new policy would have made every new natural gas pipeline in America account for all greenhouse gas emissions. That is almost impossible to do. In one fowl swoop, three commissioners on this relatively unknown national commission had found a way to block basically all new natural gas projects in America.

While energy debates are normally not black and white, this one is. This rule would be terrible for West Virginia’s communities, energy workers, and economy, as well America’s clean energy future.

West Virginia is the country’s fifth largest natural gas producer. The natural gas and oil industry supports an estimated 82,000 jobs in our state and contributed more than 14% of the state’s GDP. We also boast the third largest natural gas reserves in the nation, but that won’t matter much if we can’t move the gas to the Northeast and other areas that need it. Some fuels can be transported in other ways, like rail cars. Natural gas cannot — it requires pipelines.

FERC’s commissioners have argued that natural gas production is bad for our environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. From 2000 to 2019, the United States led the world in reducing carbon emissions. The biggest reason for that decline was the increased use of clean burning natural gas. America needs more natural gas, not less — and West Virginia is ready to produce it.

With West Virginia standing to lose so much, Sen. Joe Manchin stepped up to the plate. As the chairman of the Senate committee with oversight of FERC, he looked beyond the standard talking points peddled by the Commission, studied the issue closely, and called an immediate hearing and made the commissioners come before the Senate.

At the hearing, our thoughtful, independent-thinking senator blasted the rule, calling it “just beyond the pale.” He continued on to say, “If we could actually get natural gas infrastructure built, it would not only help with the energy transition here at home, it would also help keep costs down for American families, create good-paying jobs, and strengthen our ability to use energy as a geopolitical tool to fight for our values abroad and help our strategic partners.”

Manchin’s strong words and strong opposition to FERC’s rule did the trick. A few weeks later, FERC’s commissioners announced they were delaying the regulation and instead using the time to gather more feedback. That’s good news for West Virginia, but we’re not out of the woods yet. This rule could return at any moment.

West Virginians are lucky that Senator Manchin is so thoughtful and vigilant. We are truly thankful for his efforts to prevent this counterproductive rule from taking effect the first time, and we know that he will keep up the fight if the need arises again.

Steve White is the former co-chair of the West Virginia Democratic Party.

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