- The acting chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission criticized a celebrity anti-pipeline protestor in personal Facebook posts that critics say are unusual for the nation's head energy regulator.
- Acting Chairman Neil Chatterjee targeted actor James Cromwell in two posts after he disrupted a FERC open meeting last month to protest a pipeline in New York. "Come at me bro!" Chatterjee wrote above a screenshot from Cromwell's page.
- The acting FERC chair also referenced potential political ambitions, writing that any run for public office in the future would be "up to" his wife. A spokesperson for Chatterjee's office declined to comment on the posts.
Most of Chatterjee's Facebook page contains harmless personal posts — family photos, sports references and a surprising number of celebrity selfies.
But buried in those posts — which were open to the public when reviewed by Utility Dive — Chatterjee also referenced the contentious politics of pipeline siting he's dealt with since joining FERC in August.
At the November open meeting, actor James Cromwell disrupted Chatterjee's closing statement to protest FERC's approval of the Valley Lateral pipeline in New York. The Academy Award-nominated actor, known for his roles in "Babe" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation," joined a group of other activists arguing FERC does not properly take environmental impacts into account.
Chatterjee clearly took note of the protest, referring to Cromwell as a "C-list movie star" after the meeting during questions from the press. That evening, he posted a photo of Cromwell on his Facebook page:
The digital feud didn't stop there. Weeks later, Chatterjee gave a speech to natural gas executives arguing that environmental groups are unnecessarily delaying pipeline approvals. Cromwell responded with an online statement, drawing out Chatterjee's "come at me" line:
After that gas industry speech, a reporter asked Chatterjee if he would ever consider running for political office in Kentucky. A reference to that question also soon appeared on his Facebook page, saying that the decision is mostly up to his significant other.
In another post, Chatterjee revealed that he has visited a Tesla factory during his time as FERC chair. In yet another, he praised the headline of an article from E&E News that read "Industry relieved, activists peeved, as quorum achieved."
"Love the headline!" Chatterjee posted.
Chatterjee's office declined to comment on the Facebook posts, but some critics say they are emblematic of the acting chairman's disposition favoring fossil fuel interests over environmentalists.
"If Commissioner Chatterjee is confused about why activists feel the need to protest FERC, maybe he should review the agency's record of rubber-stamping pipeline projects, having denied only 2 permits out of hundreds in the past 30 years," said David Pomerantz, director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a liberal watchdog that tracks corporate influence in energy policymaking.
Chatterjee has repeatedly said he takes activist concerns into account, but that FERC's statutory requirements prevent him from dismissing pipelines on environmental grounds. Environmental protestors should "look down the street" at Congress for those reforms, he told Utility Dive in an interview.
Regardless of policy, some former FERC regulators say the chairman's behavior online is out of the ordinary for the head of a federal agency, even one appointed by President Donald Trump.
"Perhaps he's emulating the man who appointed him, but it seems less than the most productive use of time and is certainly unusual," said former Republican FERC Commissioner Nora Mead Brownell, appointed by President George W. Bush. "As a staffer once explained to me when I said I did not want to use the title 'Commisioner' with staff, 'You represent the dignity of the institution and you should respect that and it’s importance to staff.'"
"She was right," Brownell said. "Gravitas counts."