The Society of Environmental Journalists (SoEJ), a professional association of over 1200 journalists who cover environmental issues, has written the Acting Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Cheryl LaFleur, expressing concerns about the procedures used by the agency in conducting public comment meetings on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). The association’s February 23 letter took strong exception to the format FERC followed, which required commenters to speak to a court reporter rather than in an open session. The agency used a similar approach when it conducted scoping sessions last year for the re-routed portion of the ACP. The SoEJ letter stated:
The “listening” format, which may be an effort to encourage commenters to speak freely, bars the public and the media from bearing witness to the event, much less hearing the information and arguments presented by other citizens.
It is important for everyone to be able to exercise their First Amendment rights. But when FERC chose to move a public comment session behind closed doors, it hindered the ability of the press to inform the public about a key aspect of the government’s fact-finding and decision-making process.
We understand that comments taken at such sessions are recorded, and that transcripts are posted in the online docket for the project in question, and that they are generally available for review there within a couple of weeks. But that effectively suppresses the news about the content of the meeting by divorcing it from the immediacy of the event itself. The public is left to wonder what transpired, when there is no reason to make them wait.