Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: FERC delays are creating more uncertainty for local governments

by JB McCuskey

As Auditor of the State of West Virginia I have a unique perspective of how your tax dollars are spent.

Our office is responsible for the review and approval of general operating budgets and providing annual training and technical assistance to local governments across the state. Annually, our inspectors are responsible for conducting and overseeing over 700 financial audits of counties, municipalities, boards of education and other miscellaneous local boards and authorities.

It’s important to keep in mind that many of our state’s small cities and departments don’t operate all that differently from a household. Success is measured year to year by staying on budget and getting ahead where we can. Unexpected changes can throw a wrench into the best laid plans. All too frequently, those wrenches are tossed down from Washington, D.C.

Take, for example, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Unfortunately, delays caused by the FERC decision to undertake a review of its permitting processes for natural gas pipelines have disrupted the oil and gas industry’s operations. While the Commission’s mission is clear, to ensure economically efficient, safe, reliable and secure energy for consumers, it has chosen to venture into analyzing environmental concerns and other matters that are best examined by other agencies. These delays hurt our local governments.

Regulatory uncertainty is quickly followed by institutional instability. The revenue provided to our state from oil and gas operations is vital and helps to fund our schools, health care systems, and infrastructure. West Virginia’s municipalities and counties must be able to rely on the benefits of oil and gas projects rather than years of uncertainty due to FERC’s delay and cancellation of natural gas pipelines.

My office is currently working closely with Sen. Manchin’s office to ensure that West Virginia’s economy will benefit from the American Rescue Plan. West Virginia’s counties and municipalities are set to receive nearly $700 million in direct federal funding. While this is significant aid for our local governments, these dollars are a one-time infusion. As your auditor, I am more focused on ensuring our state and local governments have the tools necessary for long-term sustainability.

West Virginia ranks highest among other states for the percentage of total economic contributions by the natural gas and oil industry, generating $11.2 billion in total contributions to the state’s economy.

To ensure public outlays are funded and our economy continues to grow, West Virginia’s municipalities and counties must be able to reap the benefits of oil and gas projects — including the natural gas pipelines that FERC has delayed. FERC must conclude its review and outline a clear path for West Virginia’s oil and gas companies to follow so that we can get people back to work and invest in our nation’s energy infrastructure.

I pledge my support, working with Sens. Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, as well as our congressional delegation, to hold FERC accountable. Let’s empower our local governments and help them realize the full benefits of economic activity in our state.

JB McCuskey is the state auditor of West Virginia.