On May 24, 2018, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (“DOE”) Inspector General (“IG”) released an audit report of FERC’s natural gas pipeline certificate process, concluding that DOE “did not find any concerns that called into question the appropriateness of decisions FERC made on natural gas certification applications.”  The audit, which was conducted between October 2015 to May 2018, asked whether FERC’s certification process conformed to relevant laws, regulations, policies, and procedures, including timeliness and stakeholder input.  While DOE’s IG concluded that FERC generally performed the certification process in accordance with such laws and procedures, DOE’s IG also identified certain areas as needing improvement, including process transparency, public access to FERC records, tracking stakeholder comments, and data integrity.

In the audit report, DOE’s IG largely concluded that FERC diligently reviewed natural gas pipeline certificate applications while considering their associated public benefits and adverse impacts, as well as stakeholder input.  However, the DOE IG noted several areas for improvement.  First, DOE’s IG found that despite the many ways that FERC informs stakeholders about its review process, FERC had not provided adequate information on its website or in the landowner pamphlet distributed to the public.  Second, DOE’s IG raised concern over the design, search functionality and limited ease of use of eLibrary, FERC’s publicly available document repository.  In addition, the audit states that for a period of 9 years (2006-2015), FERC did not post Notices of Schedule in the Federal Register to notify stakeholders of FERC’s environmental review schedules, as required by the Code of Federal Regulations.  Third, DOE’s IG stated that FERC did not formally track and address stakeholder comments regarding a proposed natural gas pipeline project.  Finally, DOE’s IG questioned whether FERC’s internal workload tracking system, used to record and track specific information regarding a proposed natural gas pipeline project, was at all times complete and accurate.

In conclusion, the DOE IG’s audit report made the following recommendations to FERC:

  • Evaluate ways to improve FERC’s public-facing systems and outreach pamphlets to ensure that adequate information is provided to stakeholders on FERC’s processes and the status of project applications.
  • Develop and provide educational outreach and training to further facilitate stakeholders’ ability to use FERC eLibrary.
  • Develop controls to facilitate periodic review of internal policies to ensure all required documents are posted to the Federal Register.
  • Document procedures for tracking incoming stakeholder input to ensure that comments are considered, aggregated, and reflected in the environmental document or final order.
  • Perform the Activity Tracking Management System upgrades and training to address the limitations and deficiencies of the system.

A copy of the DOE IG’s audit report is available here.