On June 24, 2021, FERC formally issued a public report that outlined its plan to establish the Office of Public Participation (OPP). The report stated that the OPP’s mission is to assist the public in learning about and participating in FERC proceedings, and that FERC aims to have the OPP at full operating capacity by fiscal year (FY) 2024.
FERC’s plans to establish the OPP come years after Congress added Section 319 to the Federal Power Act (FPA) in 1978, which directed the Commission to establish the OPP to coordinate assistance between the public and the Commission. Section 319 also states that the OPP will be led by the OPP Director, appointed by the Commission for a four-year term, who will be assisted by a Deputy Director and an administrative staff member. The OPP Director will be responsible for advising the Commissioners and assisting persons or groups participating in FERC proceedings. Section 319 also empowers the Commission to compensate a person whose participation or intervention in a FERC proceeding substantially contributed to the approval of a position advocated by that person.
To initiate the creation of the OPP, the Commission held six listening sessions, a Commissioner-led workshop, and a written comment period from March 5, 2021 to May 7, 2021 to find out how the OPP could best serve the public. Through these events, the Commission received perspectives from key stakeholders such as landowners, environmental groups, Tribal Governments and citizens, government officials, industry representatives, and community leaders. Stakeholders emphasized that historically underrepresented communities lacked the assistance and resources necessary to actively participate in FERC proceedings, especially on issues regarding electric and natural gas pipeline projects. The stakeholders also provided a variety of recommendations to the Commission, including recommendations urging the OPP to improve existing FERC processes. In its public report, FERC stated that it has and will continue to incorporate the perspectives and recommendations of stakeholders. Commissioner Allison Clements, who led the outreach initiatives, additionally emphasized that the OPP “was driven by the desire to hear directly from the audience that the new office will serve—the public.”
In its plan to implement the OPP, the Commission’s report states that it aims to staff the office through a phased approach over the next four years starting in FY 2021. In the first phase, the Commission plans to appoint the OPP Director, Deputy Director, and administrative staff member by the end of FY 2021. During FY 2022, the Commission plans to begin initial operations to assist the public during FERC proceedings. The Commission plans for the OPP to reach full operating capacity by FY 2024.
* Sahara Shrestha is a 2021 summer associate with Troutman Pepper and not admitted to practice law.