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Comments to FERC on its Backstop Siting Authority

Following the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) proposed implementing regulations for its authority to site transmission projects that have been rejected (or not acted upon) by states. The Federal Power Act instructs that, among other requirements, these transmission projects must be consistent with the public interest, protect or benefit consumers, and be consistent with a sound national energy policy. 
We filed comments advising FERC that, to make these determinations (and to satisfy FERC's obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act), the Commission must consider how proposed transmission projects would affect emissions from power plants. A particular project could actually increase power-system emissions. Or a proposed project could decrease emissions, but by less than a plausible alternative route. Our comments also explain why these emissions are reasonably foreseeable using reputable modeling tools, and how developers have previously estimated power-sector emissions impacts from proposed transmission projects. Accordingly, FERC should clarify that applicants must submit estimates of power-system emissions impacts for proposed transmission projects. 
Our comments further recommend improvements to the proposed rule's environmental justice provisions, which also relate to FERC's obligation to ensure that proposed projects are consistent with the public interest. The proposed rule would require developers to identify environmental justice communities using FERC's current demographics-only methodology for doing so, and to analyze projects' impacts on these communities. We explain that FERC's definition of "environmental justice community" is incorrectly narrow. We also recommend that FERC require applicants to use one or more supplemental screening tools that use environmental indicators (like proximity to pollution) as proxies for communities' environmental burdens. Finally, we offer recommendations for how applicants could perform thorough cumulative-impacts analyses that examine how new burdens from transmission projects will add to and interact with communities' existing stressors.