Have you heard? It’s “Hot FERC Summer!” After all the excitement from the music industry last week, I am a bit late to dissecting the climate culture happening on the House floor. So, what is “Hot FERC Summer?” In short, it’s a play on “Hot Girl Summer,” the ubiquitous 2019 summer anthem by Megan Thee Stallion, featuring Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign. Need to know more? Check out this Vox explainer about the meme.
Recently, it made its way to Congress. Rep. Sean Casten, self-declared “climate-nerd” used the phrase “Hot FERC Summer” in a floor speech on July 20th in hopes that Megan Thee Stallion and Nick Minaj would help get people interested in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and its role in combating the climate crisis.
Although the video includes some, I thought I would also give more background on FERC. The agency regulates wholesale electricity markets (where electricity is bought from generators to be put into the grid) to make sure that electricity rates are “just and reasonable.” It also regulates “interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil” (think power lines and pipelines) and licenses hydropower facilities.
The week after “Hot FERC Summer”, Rep. Casten brought back an older reference — “Fergalicious” — the 2006 song by Fergie and will.i.am. His speech on “FERCalicious” was even bolder than the first.
I must admit, even I, a climate culture afficionado, did not see this one coming. One thing is clear, though. It is quite the accomplishment to get FERC and climate change in publications as varied as The Hill, Politico, People, and Entertainment Weekly! I applaud Rep. Casten for his clear expertise on FERC, his passion, and for realizing that climate and culture belong together. Bringing Megan Thee Stallion and Fergie in the conversation definitely got more people listening. However, I was still left with a couple questions.
What is Rep. Casten trying to accomplish?
Coverage from Grist and an interview with Gizmodo suggest that Rep. Casten has a couple goals — greater awareness of FERC and climate change and pressing President Biden to appoint (and for the Senate to confirm) someone to the one open seat on the five-person commission who is ready to wield power to convert our electricity sector to renewables. He also is promoting his Energy PRICE Act of 2021, which would ensure that FERC includes the costs of climate change in its determination of whether rates are “just and reasonable,” and his and Rep. Martin Heinrich’s “Interregional Transmission Planning Improvement Act of 2021,” which would require FERC to follow new criteria in making rules around planning interregional electricity transmission. Getting electricity from one region to another will likely be important in a decarbonized grid.
Is he succeeding?
The press coverage certainly suggests that Rep. Casten is helping FERC make a splash. It is worth noting that many people thought it was incredibly cringey (fair), but even still, everyone agreed… an effective press move! However, it is unclear whether this will lead to change. Awareness is a great thing, and we all need to be as informed as possible. It is wonderful if even one new person takes an interest in FERC. Nevertheless, as time is running out, we need to move beyond awareness and toward action. I am not convinced that Rep. Casten has effectively helped people channel awareness into action.
While an amazing start, in the future, the climate movement needs to better leverage the power of culture. So what lessons can we take?
- If you build it, press will come. Stunts? Name dropping pop culture icons? These things work! Let’s do it more often.
- BUT the press is not the public. In the future, to really reach the public we should coordinate campaigns around these things. Rather than one congressional office, we should have celebrities themselves, grassroots groups, local organizers, companies, everyone getting involved.
- AND public awareness is not public action. People should be able to easily move from one to the next. This is where our one-stop shop for climate action comes in handy! We will have one, easily shareable link that can act as a gateway to the entire climate movement. Any article, tweet, or viral video can immediately connect people with the best way to get involved, no matter where they live in the US. A simple, well-publicized way to take action was missing from #HotFERCSummer.