Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
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The Clean Air Act’s Renewable Fuel Standard Program (42 U.S.C. 7547(o)(2)(A)(i)) calls for annual increases in the amount of renewable fuel introduced into the U.S. fuel supply and sets annual targets for renewable fuel volumes. Each year, EPA implements those targets but has certain waiver authorities to reduce the annual targets below the statutory levels. Companies that produce renewable fuels argued that EPA’s 2019 volume levels (83 Fed. Reg. 63,704) were too low; fuel refiners and retailers argued that the 2019 volumes were too high. Environmental organizations challenged various aspects of the 2019 Rule relating to environmental considerations.The D.C. Circuit denied their petitions for review except for the environmental organizations’ challenges concerning whether the 2019 Rule would affect listed species, which it remanded without vacatur. The court upheld EPA’s 2019 continuation of its practice of granting exemptions to small refineries after promulgating the annual percentage standards; EPA’s decision to exclude electricity generated from renewable biomass (a form of cellulosic biofuel) from its cellulosic biofuel projection in the 2019 Rule; EPA’s determination that the 2019 volumes would not cause severe economic harm; and EPA’s decision not to obligate ethanol blenders under the RFS Program. EPA adequately explained its refusal to exercise the inadequate domestic supply waiver. EPA did not act arbitrarily in estimating that 100 million gallons of sugarcane ethanol were “reasonably attainable” for 2019. View "Growth Energy v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulates the transmission and wholesale of electric energy in interstate commerce, 16 U.S.C. 824(b), and must approve changes to any rate or charge. PJM, a regional transmission organization that manages an electric grid covering 13 Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states and the District of Columbia, meets its obligation to ensure sufficient generating capacity by conducting a yearly auction in which electricity suppliers submit offers to be available to provide capacity during a one-year period, three years in the future. The Variable Resource Requirement Curve (VRR Curve) represents the prices that consumers should pay for varying quantities of capacity. The intersection of the VRR and supply curves dictates the amount of capacity committed and the price suppliers are paid. The VRR Curve is set based on the amount of capacity that must be produced to meet peak demand to allow no more than one power outage every decade and how much revenue a hypothetical new generator (Reference Resource) would need to earn in the capacity market to justify construction.The Commission accepted PJM;s proposed revisions to the capacity market auction mechanism: keeping a combustion turbine plant as its Reference Resource and increasing the value of the Reference Resource’s estimated offer to supply energy by 10% (10% adder). The D.C. Circuit affirmed the approval of the Reference Resource as just and reasonable but vacated the approval of the 10% adder. View "Delaware Division of the Public Advocate v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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Spire planned to build a St. Louis-area pipeline and unsuccessfully solicited natural gas “shippers” to enter into preconstruction “precedent agreements.” Spire later entered into a precedent agreement with its affiliate, Spire Missouri, for 87.5 percent of the pipeline’s projected capacity. Spire applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a certificate of public convenience and necessity (Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. 717f(c)(1)(A)), conceding that the proposed pipeline was not needed to serve new load but claiming other benefits. As evidence of need, Spire relied on its precedent agreement with Spire Missouri. FERC released an Environmental Assessment, finding no significant environmental impact. EDF challenged Spire’s application, arguing that the precedent agreement should have limited probative value because the companies were corporate affiliates. The Order approving the new pipeline principally focused on the precedent agreement.The D.C. Circuit vacated the approval. FERC may issue a Certificate only if it finds that construction of a new pipeline “is or will be required by the present or future public convenience and necessity.” Under FERC’s “Certificate Policy Statement,” if there is a need for the pipeline, FERC determines whether there will be adverse impacts on existing customers, existing pipelines, or landowners and communities. If adverse stakeholder impacts will result, FERC balances the public benefits against the adverse effects. FERC’s refusal to address nonfrivolous arguments challenging the probative weight of the affiliated precedent agreement did not evince reasoned and principled decision-making. FERC ignored evidence of self-dealing and failed to thoroughly conduct the interest-balancing inquiry. View "Environmental Defense Fund v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The Union of Concerned Scientists sought review of a Department of Energy (DOE) rule concerning the designation of “critical electric infrastructure information,” 16 U.S.C. 824o-1(a)(3), exempted from FOIA disclosure and not to be “made available by any Federal, State, political subdivision or tribal authority pursuant to any Federal, State, political subdivision or tribal law requiring public disclosure of information or records.”The Union, a national nonprofit organization consisting of scientists, engineers, analysts, and policy and communication experts who conduct “independent analyses,” argued that the rule exceeds the Department’s authority under section 215A of the Federal Power Act, is arbitrary and capricious, and was promulgated in violation of the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. The D.C. Circuit dismissed the petition for lack of Article III standing. There is no indication that DOE’s rule would deprive the Union or its members of information they would receive if DOE were to apply a 2016 Rule promulgated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. View "Union of Concerned Scientists v. United States Department of Energy" on Justia Law

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The Federal Mine Safety and Health Amendments Act, 30 U.S.C. 801, requires the Secretary of the Department of Labor, through the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), to negotiate mine-specific ventilation plans with companies that operate the mines. In 2006-2018, Knight Hawk Coal operated its Prairie Eagle Mine pursuant to an MSHA-approved ventilation plan that permitted perimeter mining with 40-foot perimeter cuts. In 2018, MSHA conducted a ventilation survey at Prairie Eagle and concluded that the approved plan did not adequately ventilate the perimeter cuts. MSHA relied primarily on the results of chemical smoke tests, which involved survey team members observing smoke movement from a 44-foot distance. Months later, MSHA revoked the Prairie Eagle ventilation plan. After receiving a technical citation from MSHA for operating without an approved plan, Knight Hawk sought review by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.The Commission’s ALJ found the revocation arbitrary and capricious, in part because the chemical smoke test results were unreliable and inconsistent and the Secretary ignored disagreements among MSHA ventilation survey team members regarding the results. The ALJ reinstated the previously-approved ventilation plan. The Commission affirmed, concluding that the Secretary failed to explain adequately why the existing ventilation plan was deficient. The D.C. Circuit denied the Secretary’s petition for review, finding that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s finding. View "Secretary of Labor v. Knight Hawk Coal, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2012, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists discovered that endangered mussels were dying on the banks of Indiana's Tippecanoe River. The Service focused on the upstream Oakdale Dam, which significantly restricts the flow of water downstream in order to generate hydroelectricity and to create a lake. The Service worked with Oakdale's operator to develop new procedures that would require the dam to release more water during droughts. After a lengthy process of interagency cooperation and public dialogue, the new procedures were approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has licensing authority over hydroelectric dams on federally regulated waters.Local governmental entities sought review of the Commission’s decision and the Service’s Biological Opinion upon which the Commission relied. The D.C. Circuit affirmed in part. The court rejected some challenges to the validity of the Biological Opinion, which were not raised on rehearing before the Commission. There was otherwise no error in the agencies’ expert scientific analyses. The agencies failed to adequately explain why the new dam procedures do not violate a regulation prohibiting the Service from requiring more than “minor” changes to the Commission’s proposal for dam operations. Because vacating the agencies’ decisions would subject the dam operator to contradictory legal obligations imposed by separate agencies, the court remanded to the Commission without vacatur for further proceedings. View "Shafer & Freeman Lakes Environmental Conservation Corp. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved, as just and reasonable, cost allocations filed by PJM, the Mid–Atlantic’s regional transmission organization, for a project to improve the reliability of three New Jersey nuclear power plants. The Commission denied a complaint lodged by Delaware and Maryland alleging a large imbalance between the costs imposed on the Delmarva transmission zone and the benefits that zone would accrue from the project. On rehearing in 2018, the Commission reversed course, concluding that application of PJM’s cost–allocation method to the project violated cost–causation principles and was therefore unjust and unreasonable under the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 824e. The Commission’s replacement cost–allocation method shifted primary cost responsibility for the project from the Delmarva zone to utilities in New Jersey.The New Jersey Agencies argued that the Commission departed from precedent without adequate explanation, made findings that are unsupported by substantial evidence, and failed to respond meaningfully to objections raised during the proceedings. The D.C. Circuit denied their petitions for review. The Commission reasonably decided to adopt a different cost–allocation method for the type of project at issue here and adequately explained its departure from the cost allocations it had approved in 2016. View "Public Service Electric and Gas Co. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review brought by three electrical transmission companies (Transcos), subsidiaries of the same parent company, challenging FERC's decision to reduce the enhanced return on equity FERC had previously authorized them to collect from ratepayers due to their status as standalone transmission companies.The court rejected ITC's contention that FERC arbitrarily and capriciously departed from precedent establishing a particular methodology to assess Transco independence. The court explained that FERC, consistent with its stated intent in Order No. 679, never established any definitive methodology, let alone the one ITC claims it did. In this case, FERC has consistently applied a case-by-case approach to determining Transco independence, considering ownership and business structure as part of that inquiry since it first granted a Transco adder in 2003. When the adder was codified in 2006, Order No. 679 built on prior practice by identifying certain criteria that ITC now mistakenly claims constitute "a new corporate-structure test." The court also rejected ITC's contention that FERC exceeded its statutory authority by reducing ITC's Transco adders without first finding the adders to be unjust and unreasonable. Rather, the court concluded that there was substantial evidence to support FERC’s finding that the merger had reduced ITC's independence, thereby rendering the existing adders unjust and unreasonable. View "International Transmission Co. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit held that the Corps violated the National Environmental Policy Act (EPA) by issuing an easement allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline to transport crude oil through federally owned land at the Lake Oahe crossing site without preparing an environmental impact statement despite substantial criticisms from the Tribes.The court rejected the Corps' and Dakota Access' contention that the district court applied the wrong standard by relying on National Parks Conservation Association v. Semonite, 916 F.3d at 1083, which emphasized the important role played by entities other than the federal government. The court explained that the Tribes' unique role and their government-to-government relationship with the United States demand that their criticisms be treated with appropriate solicitude. The court concluded that several serious scientific disputes in this case means that the effects of the Corps' easement decision are likely to be "highly controversial." The court also noted that, although the risk of a pipeline leak may be low, that risk is sufficient that a person of ordinary prudence would take it into account in reaching a decision to approve the pipeline's placement, and its potential consequences are therefore properly considered. The court affirmed the district court's order vacating the easement while the Corps prepares an environmental impact statement. However, the court reversed the district court's order to the extent it directed that the pipeline be shut down and emptied of oil. View "Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review challenging FERC's determination that fuel transported by pipeline to Orlando's airport—after being delivered to the Port of Tampa—moves intrastate. The court upheld the ALJ's finding, under the three Northville factors, that the stop in Tampa broke the continuity of interstate transportation, and so the jet fuel moved intrastate through the Central Florida Pipeline. Therefore, FERC lacked jurisdiction to regulate the pipeline rates. The court rejected petitioners' claims that FERC misapplied the Northville factors; the Northville factors are inadequate to make the determination; the Commission misinterpreted the teachings of old Supreme Court cases: Texas & New Orleans R.R. Co. v. Sabine Tram Co., 227 U.S. 111 (1913); Carson Petrol. Co. v. Vial, 279 U.S. 95 (1929); United States v. Erie R.R. Co., 280 U.S. 98 (1929); and the Airlines' overarching intent to transport the fuel from ships through Tampa to Orlando means the pipeline movement is interstate in nature. View "Aircraft Service International, Inc. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law