Agency scaling back mountain of paper

After a year of testing, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has decided

to accept electronic documents as substitutes for paper in certain cases.

The change is intended to begin carving away at a mountain of paperwork

at the agency, which regulates oil, gas and electricity sales and transmission.

Starting Nov. 1, FERC plans to accept electronic versions of documents filed

in oil pipeline rate cases and in a wide range of protests of agency decisions,

including its decisions on oil pipeline rates.

Under current regulations, the agency requires submitting original paper

documents and as many as 14 paper copies in some kinds of rate-setting matters.

After Nov. 1, however, only electronic copies will be necessary, and they

can be submitted via the Internet. Paper documents will continue to be accepted.

Among the acceptable electronic documents are comments on applications and

filings, protests of FERC decisions, environmental documents and certain

types of technical submissions.

FERC is proceeding cautiously into the electronic arena. The agency will

continue to require paper versions of documents pertaining to rate-making

and settlements. Paper documents will also be required for matters that

are scheduled for hearings.

In addition, agency officials said they will not accept electronic transfers

of funds or documents that entail financial or legal liability. And FERC

will not accept electronic submissions containing information that the sender

wishes to remain confidential.

In the long run, however, FERC officials said they expect "gradually to

expand the categories of submissions" that can be made electronically because

electronic filing "will reduce the burden and expense associated with paper

filings, and help make information available to the public in a faster and

more efficient manner."

Economy and efficiency are not the only motivations. In a published notice

on the plan, officials also stated that they are required to substitute

electronic documents for paper ones under Congress' Government Paperwork

Elimination Act and the administration's Circular A-130.

FERC is preparing to issue detailed instructions on how to make electronic

submissions, including instructions for establishing and using identifications

and passwords.

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