The energy industry has been at the forefront of the 2020 election, and energy development is an issue that polarizes Americans and our businesses and political leaders in choosing the path for the future. Energy developments are inextricably linked to our economy and national security, and the decisions and policies that will be implemented over the next four years are critical to the nation and our participation and role in world affairs.
On September 10, 2020, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (“CFTC” or “the Commission”) Division of Enforcement (“the Division”) issued guidance for CFTC staff on the factors to be considered when evaluating compliance programs in connection with enforcement matters. The guidance will be inserted in the CFTC Enforcement Manual. Although not binding on the Commission or any other Division of the CFTC, the Compliance Guidance is binding on Enforcement staff.
In recent years, the Division has taken several steps to increase transparency regarding the performance of its enforcement functions. First, the Division published its Enforcement Manual, which is updated periodically and publicly available on the CFTC’s website. On May 20, 2020, the Division issued guidance to staff regarding factors to be considered in recommending a civil monetary penalty in an enforcement action. Those factors include the existence and effectiveness of an existing compliance program, as well as efforts to improve that compliance program following detection of a violation. The recently issued Compliance Guidance provides factors to be used in evaluating such compliance programs.
The Compliance Guidance focuses on whether the compliance program was reasonably designed and implemented to achieve prevention, detection, and remediation of the misconduct at issue. The Compliance Guidance acknowledges that this assessment depends upon the specific facts and circumstances involved and further states that “[a]t all points, the Division will conduct a risk-based analysis, taking into consideration a variety of factors such as the specific entity involved, the entity’s role in the market, and the potential market or customer impact of the underlying misconduct.”
The Compliance Guidance provides a number of factors for staff to consider in determining whether a compliance program was reasonably designed and implemented to achieve the three goals identified above.
Stakeholders in the U.S. infrastructure industry should note that ongoing litigation and new court decisions issued in the first half of 2020 are reshaping the development of energy projects.
Energy developers should carefully review the impact of new rulings that have interpreted environmental analyses required for Clean Water Act (“CWA”) permitting as greenhouse gas emissions (“GHG”) on the complex regulation of infrastructure projects. At the same time, several other recent proceedings have raised questions about practices and procedures of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) regarding natural gas infrastructure.
Status of Nationwide Permit 12. In Northern Plans Resource Council v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Montana District Court vacated the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide (“Corps”) Permit 12 disrupting permitting and enforcement under the CWA. The court later clarified that the ruling applies to new projects and not existing pipeline projects and the Ninth Circuit recently denied a request to stay the implementation of the order pending appeal.
Navigable Waters Protection Rule. Significant litigation is expected to challenge a new restrictive rule of what constitutes “waters of the United States” under the CWA. Infrastructure projects will also be impacted by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund.
National Environmental Policy Act GHG Review. The District of Montana ruled in Wildearth Guardians et al. v. U.S. Bureau of Land Management, that the Bureau of Land Management must consider cumulative GHG impacts of oil and gas lease sales. Litigation is expected to challenge whether the Corps has adequately considered GHG for Section 404 permits.
Climate Change Litigation. Many state and local governments continue to file common law lawsuits against oil and gas companies seeking damages for climate change mitigation measures. The 9th and 4th Circuits have rejected arguments that federal law applies to these disputes and similar cases are pending in the 1st, 2nd, and 10th Circuits. Also, in v. Exxon, the District of Massachusetts ruled that a suit alleging Exxon violated state fraud statutes should be litigated in state court.
Precedent Agreements as Evidence of Market Need. In a 2019 case, City of Oberlin v. FERC, the D.C. Circuit held that FERC failed to adequately explain why it is lawful to consider a proposed pipeline’s precedent agreements with foreign shippers serving foreign customers as evidence of market need for the pipeline. FERC recently addressed City of Oberlin and explained why precedent agreements between a proposed pipeline and LNG terminal were lawfully credited as evidence of market need for the pipeline.
FERC’s Tolling Order Practice. In Allegheny Defense Project v. FERC, the D.C. Circuit granted en banc rehearing over whether FERC violated the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) and landowners’ due process by issuing tolling orders to extend the time to consider rehearing requests of FERC’s pipeline approval, while allowing a pipeline to begin construction and exercise eminent domain. On June 9, FERC issued a final rule to preclude natural gas projects under sections 3 and 7 of the NGA from proceeding with construction until FERC issues a decision on the merits of any request for rehearing.
Pipeline Right-of-Ways (“ROWs”) through the Appalachian Trail. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument over a 4th Circuit ruling that the U.S. Forest Service lacks authority to grant a pipeline ROW across the Appalachian Trail. On June 15, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the Forest Service had authority to issue the pipeline ROW through the Appalachian Trail.
FERC Authority over Pipeline Transportation Service Agreements (“TSAs”) in Bankruptcy. Several pipelines recently have filed petitions for declaratory orders, requesting FERC to declare it has concurrent jurisdiction with bankruptcy courts over natural gas pipeline TSAs and that FERC approval is required to in order to modify or reject such contracts in bankruptcy. We are continuing to follow this area for developments.
We invite you to read, watch, and share the below resources from our recent webinar for further details. Contact any of us if you have questions about the impact of recent cases, decisions, and regulations on your energy project(s).
Please click here for the presentation materials and here to listen to the recording.
On March 19, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) announced several regulatory responses to the coronavirus pandemic and FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee held a press conference to discuss the agency’s initiatives. The Chairman emphasized the capabilities of the Commission and its staff to work in a timely manner throughout the pandemic response, while striving to provide necessary flexibility to regulated entities.
The Chairman named Caroline Wozniak, a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Energy Market Regulation, as the point of contact for all energy industry inquiries related to the impacts of COVID-19. Members of the regulated community may e-mail PandemicLiaison@FERC.gov with questions for Commission staff.
Chairman Chatterjee clarified that the Commission will provide regulated entities with flexibility when needed, but emphasized the Commission is fully functioning and will try not to delay decisions. Chairman Chatterjee also stated his goal is to issue certain rehearing orders involving pipeline certificate projects challenged by affected landowners within 30 days, consistent with guidance from the Chairman issued on January 31, 2020.
On August 16, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “the Commission”) issued an order granting in part and denying in part requests for further clarification of its reform of Large Generator Interconnection Agreements (“LGIA”) and Procedures (“LGIP”). Order No. 845-B affirms FERC’s prior findings that the expansion of an interconnection customer’s option to build does not impede transmission owners’ ability to recover a return of and on network upgrades. The order also reiterates FERC’s determination not to revise the pro forma LGIA’s indemnity provisions.
Order No. 845—FERC’s Final Rule revising the pro forma LGIP and LGIA—made various reforms to “improve certainty for interconnection customers, promote more informed interconnection decisions, and enhance the interconnection process.” Among these changes, the Commission expanded interconnection customers’ ability to exercise the option to build transmission providers’ interconnection facilities and standalone network upgrades beyond instances where the transmission provider is unable to meet the interconnection customer’s preferred construction timeline.
A subsequent decision, Order No. 845-A, among other things, rejected arguments that the option build revisions contradicted the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit’s (“D.C. Circuit”) decision in Ameren Services Co. v. FERC. According to the Commission, “Ameren stands for the principle that the Commission cannot prohibit a transmission owner from earning a return of, and on, the cost of its network upgrades.” In that case, the D.C. Circuit vacated FERC’s orders requiring the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. (“MISO”) to remove an option under its tariff allowing transmission owners to unilaterally elect to initially fund network upgrades and to thereafter recover the interconnection customer’s portion of the cost burden through periodic network upgrade charges that included a return on the capital investment (i.e., the “transmission owner initial funding option”). Although the Commission initially found the transmission owner initial funding option unjust and unreasonable, the D. C. Circuit remanded the orders directing the Commission to “explain how investors could be expected to underwrite the prospect of potentially large non-profit appendages with no compensatory incremental return.” The Commission reinstated the transmission-owner initial funding option on remand.
FERC is conducting a comprehensive review of its method for determining the appropriate return on equity in jurisdictional rates across the energy industry. Comments are due no later than 90 days, and reply comments no later than 120 days, after the publication of the NOI in the Federal Register.
Section 305 of the Federal Power Act (“FPA”)1 generally requires prior approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “the Commission”) before an individual may serve as an officer or director of: (1) more than one public utility; (2) a public utility and certain entities authorized by law to underwrite or participate in the marketing of public utility securities; or (3) a public utility and a company that supplies electrical equipment to that public utility.
On February 21, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) issued a final rule implementing statutory amendments to section 203(a)(1)(B) of the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) (“Order No. 855”).1 Order No. 855 revises Part 33 of FERC’s regulations to establish a $10 million threshold for mergers and consolidations requiring FERC review and approval. The Commission is also implementing a notification requirement for merger and consolidation transactions that do not require Commission approval under the newly-amended regulations but that involve the acquisition of facilities valued over one million dollars. The amended regulations take effect on March 28, 2019. Continue reading “FERC Adopts Regulations Implementing $10 Million Threshold for Review of Public Utility Mergers and Consolidations”
On February 21, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an order (“Order No. 845-A”) granting in part and denying in part requests for rehearing and clarification of its final rule reforming the large generator interconnection procedures (“Order No. 845”). Order No. 845 aimed to “improve certainty for interconnection customers, promote more informed interconnections decisions, and enhance the interconnection process” by implementing various revisions to the Commission’s pro forma Large Generator Interconnection Procedures (“LGIP”) and pro forma Large Generator Interconnection Agreements (“LGIA”), including:
Option to Build: Removing the limitation that previously allowed interconnection customers to exercise the option to build transmission provider’s interconnection facilities and standalone network upgrades only in instances where the transmission provider could not meet the interconnection customer’s preferred construction timeline;
On Wednesday April 18, 2018, from 1:00 to 1:30 p.m. (EDT), Blank Rome Partners Margaret Anne (“Peg”) Hill and Frederick M. Lowther will present a live webinar where they will discuss adjustments that might be made to the Clean Water Act to restore the originally-intended cooperation between state and federal authorities, and what remedies might be available in lieu of congressional action.
The federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”) has been in existence since 1972. For the states that implemented EPA-sanctioned water quality standards, the CWA (specifically Section 401) gave those states the power to enforce those standards by granting or denying certifications to federally-regulated projects impacting state waters. The concept of state veto power over federally-regulated projects was known as “cooperative federalism.”
By 2005, it became clear that Section 401 rights provided a means for states to delay or frustrate projects on grounds only tangentially related to water quality. In the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (“EPACT”), Congress responded by providing for direct, expedited review of adverse state action in the U.S. Courts of Appeals. Notwithstanding EPACT, several states continued to use Section 401 for purposes broader than originally intended and the direct appellate remedy proved ineffective.
Starting with Islander East in 2007, and culminating recently in Constitution Pipeline, states have effectively blocked a number of federally-approved interstate pipeline projects. The impact of these decisions suggests that it is time to revisit the “cooperative federalism” concept.
For more information about this event or to register, please click here.