Millennium’s Valley Lateral Project: Yet Another New York State Veto under the Clean Water Act

Frederick M. Lowther and Michael L. Krancer

On August 30, 2017, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“NYSDEC”) issued a two-page letter (signed by the General Counsel of NYSDEC), which denies “conditionally” a water quality certification under §401 of the Federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”). As with the two prior denials (noted below), this denial has the effect of preventing construction of the eight-mile Valley Lateral Pipeline, which is part of the Millennium Pipeline intended to serve the 680 MW gas-fired CPV Valley Energy Center in Wayawanda, Orange County, NY, currently under construction. The “conditional” denial becomes unconditional in the event Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) does not grant NYSDEC’s petition to FERC filed last month to reconsider its approval of the line in light of “new law,” namely the recent D.C. Circuit decision Sierra Club v. FERC, 2017 WL 3597014 (D.C. Cir., August 22, 2017) (“Sierra Club”). Continue reading “Millennium’s Valley Lateral Project: Yet Another New York State Veto under the Clean Water Act”

D.C. Circuit Significantly Expands the Scope of FERC Pipeline Reviews

Frederick M. Lowther and Frank L. Tamulonis III

In an abrupt departure from long-standing precedent, the D.C. Circuit ruled on August 22, 2017 that, in approving a natural gas pipeline project, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) failed to consider potential “downstream” greenhouse gas emissions from power plants burning natural gas supplied by the pipeline when preparing an environmental impact statement (“EIS”) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). Continue reading “D.C. Circuit Significantly Expands the Scope of FERC Pipeline Reviews”

New PA DEP Data Confirms That Methane Emissions Continue to Plummet from Unconventional Natural Gas Production in Pennsylvania

Michael L. Krancer

Pennsylvania DEP’s 2015 Air Emissions Inventory for Unconventional Natural Gas Operations is out. It was released late in the day on Thursday before the Labor Day weekend so there will be a lot of “debrief” as time goes on. But here is an early take. Continue reading “New PA DEP Data Confirms That Methane Emissions Continue to Plummet from Unconventional Natural Gas Production in Pennsylvania”

CONSTITUTION PIPELINE: The 2d Circuit Reaffirms a State’s Right to Veto a FERC-Approved Interstate Pipeline Project

Frederick M. Lowther

On August 18, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a long-awaited decision in Constitution Pipeline Company LLC v. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation et al., Docket No. 16-1568 (“Constitution”). At issue—once again—was whether a single State (in this case, New York) has the power under §401 of the Federal Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. §1341 (“CWA”), to deny a water quality certification for an interstate pipeline previously certificated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”), when the effect of the denial is to veto a pipeline project that would serve multiple States. In 2008, the 2d Circuit determined that such a veto power exists. Islander East Pipeline Co. v. McCarthy, 525 F.3d 141 (2d Cir, 2008) (“Islander East”). Although the factual situation in Constitution differs in some respects (noted below) from that in Islander East, the end result is the same: if a State determines that a FERC-approved pipeline is not consistent with its water quality standards approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Court finds (as it did here) that the determination was not arbitrary and capricious (i.e., is supported by “sufficient evidence to provide rational support” for the denial, Constitution, sl. op. at 24), the federally-approved interstate pipeline cannot proceed. Continue readingCONSTITUTION PIPELINE: The 2d Circuit Reaffirms a State’s Right to Veto a FERC-Approved Interstate Pipeline Project”

FERC Gets Quorum and New Acting Chairman

Joseph McMonigle

First business meeting set for September 20. NEXUS Natural Gas Pipeline leads the list of backlog of projects awaiting approvals.

New FERC Commissioner Robert Powelson, formerly of the Pennsylvania Utility Commission and former President of NARUC, was sworn last Thursday, giving the Commission a quorum for the first time in six months.

Continue reading “FERC Gets Quorum and New Acting Chairman”

You Made Your Bed, Now Lie in It: Samson Exploration, LLC v. T.S. Reed Properties, Inc.

Liz E. Klingensmith, Jeremy A. Mercer, Amy L. Barrette

In Samson Exploration, LLC v. T.S. Reed PropertiesInc., the Texas Supreme Court affirmed the decision by the Ninth Court of Appeals siding with royalty owners in concluding that the operator of a well within two overlapping units had to pay twice.

Samson’s leases contractually authorized unilateral pooling. Samson created Unit 1, which had boundaries of 6,000 to 13,800 feet subsurface, and obtained production from two wells within Unit 1’s boundaries, Well No. 1 and Well No. 2. Well No. 1 produced from 12,304 feet to 12,332 feet subsurface. Well No. 2 produced from 13,150 to 13,176 feet. Samson then unilaterally amended Unit 1 to reduce the surface acreage and change the depth to 12,400 feet subsurface and below (the “Amended Unit”). No production from Well No. 1 was attributed to the Amended Unit. Continue reading “You Made Your Bed, Now Lie in It: Samson Exploration, LLC v. T.S. Reed Properties, Inc.

ERA Revisited: Solutions For Navigating An Uncertain Legal Landscape

Margaret Anne Hill, Michael L. Krancer, Frank L. Tamulonis III, and Stephen C. Zumbrun

On June 20, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its opinion in Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (PEDF) v. Commonwealth, 2017 Pa. LEXIS 1393 (Pa. June 20), in connection with the so-called Environmental Rights Amendment or ERA (Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution). Suffice it to say, the opinion has reopened the debate as to the meaning of the ERA, and more importantly, how the ERA is implemented as a practical and legal matter. In brief, the court ruled that amendments to the state’s fiscal code (which sought to address budgetary shortfalls by redirecting money from a fund containing rents and royalties from oil and gas leases on commonwealth land to the general fund) violated the ERA. While the facts before the court were narrowly drawn, the court used the opportunity to revisit the decades old “test” applied in evaluating ERA claims, an issue it first addressed in its 2013 plurality opinion in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, 83 A.3d 901 (Pa. 2013). It abruptly rejected the well-established Payne v. Kassab test and roughly 45 years of ERA-related case law, thereby placing the ERA, and industry, back into legal limbo. Despite some legal uncertainty, this opinion should not be interpreted as a major stumbling block to key energy and infrastructure projects.

Continue reading “ERA Revisited: Solutions For Navigating An Uncertain Legal Landscape”