On Friday, the Institute for Energy Research (IER) pressed forward with its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) transparency project with a new letter to Congress detailing what IER has described in the federal courts as FERC’s “affirmative approach of delaying processing or production in response to [IER’s Freedom of Information Act or] FOIA requests” on matters of obvious public (and oversight) interest. IER also noted what appears to be a conflict of interest playing a role in the stonewall.

Since March of 2022, IER has made numerous requests for public records from FERC under FOIA to learn and educate the public about recent developments and actions by the Commission. The information revealed caused problems for FERC. As the revelations threatened to pose more trouble, FERC clamped down on further releases, often wildly in violation of its obligations under FOIA.

Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under FOIA unless it falls under one of the nine express exemptions Congress created, legislating a bias toward disclosure while protecting interests such as personal privacy, national security and law enforcement. Since becoming law, FOIA has played an essential role in exposing government waste, misconduct, and mismanagement.

The oversight project began as a simple inquiry about Chairman Glick’s response to questioning from Senator Bill Cassidy at a hearing of the Senate Energy Committee regarding whether anyone higher up in the Biden Administration sought to influence FERC in order to impede the development of natural gas pipelines.

Chairman Glick responded to the line of questioning with an unambiguous “no.”

IER originally sought, through FOIA, to substantiate the veracity of Commissioner Glick’s response to Senator Cassidy in the March 3 hearing and to better understand how the decision was made to change the pipeline policy and to redesignate the policy as a draft, including by understanding the role other entities including the White House played in FERC’s deliberations.

Due to FERC’s lack of response to our FOIA requests, IER broadened its inquiries into FERC as it became clear that FERC is clamp-down on information was deliberate and targeted as FERC continues to process hundreds of pages, promptly, for other requesters.

IER President Tom Pyle wrote FERC’s new Chairman directly six weeks ago to express these concerns, copying all Commissioners, but heard nothing back, nor did we receive any response to our follow up request to discuss the matters. In that intervening time, FERC’s obstructionism has only compounded.

As IER noted to Congress, one of the immediately notable aspects of FERC’s clampdown on information was the departure it represented from the Commission’s traditional status as an admirably FOIA-compliant agency. Recently, however, something changed.

As our new letter outlines, this goes far beyond mere inflexibility or bureaucratic failure to comply with FOIA. Instead, FERC is engaged in an often egregious stonewall of requests for information on matters of obvious public (and oversight) interest. This also appears to be burdened if not driven by an obvious and irreconcilable conflict of interest that we outline in our letter.

It is inarguable that the public has a right to know the facts IER seeks in these requests, and now lawsuits. FOIA is intended to ensure the public’s ability to know about government operations; litigation is designed to resolve disputes. Yet FERC has instead conducted what has every hallmark of a stonewall campaign to delay and block release of records to the public further explaining these matters.

Since the media has remained disinterested in FERC’s lack of transparency on these issues, it is clear that such serious episodes warrant Congress’s attention.  Therefore, IER has asked that Congress use its oversight capacity to review FERC’s pattern of behavior, including its lack of responsiveness to our repeated FOIA requests and also its compliance with federal recordkeeping and conflicts laws,as it seems likely that these revelations would inform decisions about the appropriate legislative response and otherwise heighten the need for congressional oversight of FERC’s activities.

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