WASHINGTON— The Senate voted Tuesday evening to confirm Willie Phillips to fill an open seat on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Phillips, former chairman of the DC Public Service Commission, will serve a five-year term on the commission, which regulates energy infrastructure including pipelines, liquid natural gas terminals and interstate transmission of electricity, fracked gas and oil.
Conservation, Indigenous and environmental justice groups urged Phillips to use his new position to help transform the country’s dangerous fossil fuel energy system into a renewable, resilient and just one. In August the groups were joined by more than 450 organizations pushing President Biden to appoint an environmental and energy justice champion to the commission.
“We’re in a climate emergency, and I hope Phillips will join other commissioners to quickly accelerate a renewable and just energy revolution,” said Gaby Sarri-Tobar, an energy justice campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Phillips needs to call out false solutions, stand up to corporate utilities, and reject pipelines, gas plants and other fossil fuel infrastructure. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this commission, and Phillips has a tremendous opportunity to put the climate, people and environmental justice first.”
“It was clear Phillips wasn't acquainted with treaty rights or obligations to Indigenous communities, however his background may prove an inclination to at least listen to the nuances that the FERC commission must abide by with their obligation to uphold treaty rights for Tribal nations and the projects that threaten and impact our communities,” said Joye Braun, national pipelines campaign organizer for Indigenous Environmental Network. “It is our hope that the era of rubber-stamping destructive fossil fuel projects that threaten our waters and land and increase sex and human trafficking will end. We hope Phillips will be part of this paradigm shift to a more just transition away from fossil fuels and false solutions.”
“Willie Phillips has spent his career working on the side of the oil and gas industry and electric utility giants,” said Mitch Jones, policy director at Food & Water Watch. “We certainly hope he’ll prove that he’s finally seen the light and recognized the inherent dangers to our climate and communities that continued tolerance for fossil fuels will bring. We need a clean energy champion at FERC, not the dirty energy status quo. We’ll be keeping a close eye on Phillips from Day One of his term.”
“Mr. Phillips was not the FERC commissioner we'd hoped for, but we haven't given up hope that he can change his past behavior,” said Drew Hudson, senior national organizer at Friends of the Earth. “We're counting on Phillips and FERC’s new Democratic majority to Build Back Better by putting environmental justice first. That means no new pipelines, no new export terminals, no more dirty fossil fuels at all — especially not in Black, Brown and low-wealth communities that are historically hit first and worst by pollution and climate change.”
“For many years FERC commissioners, no matter their party, have voted nearly unanimously to rubber stamp all but two of hundreds of proposed gas industry fossil fuel projects,” said Melinda Tuhus, an organizer with Beyond Extreme Energy. “Things have changed somewhat in the last few years, and Mr. Phillips must be part of that change. He must consider the latest IPCC report about catastrophic impacts coming our way and the IEA report that calls for an end this year to funding and building any new fossil fuel projects. His and other commissioners’ decisions will have huge impacts, positive or negative, on humanity and all life forms for decades to come, especially people of color and low-wealth communities.”
“Phillips has confirmed that his strategy as a FERC commissioner will be led by affordability, reliability and sustainability,” said Dorothy Slater, senior researcher and climate lead with Revolving Door Project. “We urge him to remember that, while he may be inclined to favor suppliers in this approach, his most important constituents are people and the planet. His legacy will depend on whether or not he leads the country through a rapid energy transition that prioritizes justice, and he must do so even if it reduces his likelihood of landing a high-paying private utility job following his tenure at FERC. We will be tracking him closely to ensure he chooses correctly.”
Comments about Phillips’ confirmation from additional organizations can be found here.