FERC Slightly Eases Some Secrecy Requirements

November 28, 2007

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has relaxed — just slightly — some of its requirements for secrecy on decisions it makes on "critical energy infrastructure."

Current rules, adopted shortly after 9/11, prevent much public disclosure of information about pipelines, powerlines, and similar energy facilities on the grounds that terrorists could use it. But in the process, FERC also prevents the public from knowing about dangers posed to them by FERC's licensing and siting decisions — which do not provide safety accountability, and which critics contend are swayed by coziness with the energy industry. The restricted information is known as Critical Energy Infrastructure Information (CEII). To get access to CEII, people must sign non-disclosure agreements — a device that makes the information almost useless to news media.

The absurdity of the rule was highlighted when news accounts revealed that some of the information — such as pipeline routing maps — was readily available from other government mapping agencies or from commercial firms. Those maps are often more accurate than FERC's, and are available on a no-questions-asked basis to anyone paying the price.

In an Oct. 30, 2007, decision, FERC said it "is allowing landowners access to alignment sheets containing CEII for the limited portion of a project that would affect their land and the adjacent parcels on each side without going through the CEII process."

"In addition," it announced, "the Commission is eliminating the non-internet public (NIP) category because much of the information currently designated as NIP is easily available on-line from other sources such as the U.S. Geological Survey or commercial mapping firms."

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