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

Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas 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

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The DC Circuit denied the Refinery's motion to proceed under a pseudonym. The court weighed the markedly thin showing of potential injury by the Refinery against the substantial public interest in transparency and openness in cases involving the government's administration of an important statutory and regulatory scheme, holding that the Refinery has not overcome the customary and constitutionally-impeded presumption of openness in judicial proceedings.In this case, the Refinery has failed to demonstrate that requiring it to proceed in its own name will risk the disclosure of sensitive and highly personal information; the Refinery itself faces no risk of physical or mental harm; and the Refinery has chosen to sue a government agency regarding the operation of a statutory program and, in particular, applications for special exemptions from the law's obligations. The court held that none of the factors commonly involved in analyzing a request to proceed anonymously weigh in the Refinery's favor. Furthermore, the Refinery's additional arguments add nothing to its side of the scale either. View "In re: Sealed Case" on Justia Law

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The EPA issued a regulation known as the Pathways II Rule, allowing renewable-fuel producers to use a measurement method "certified by a voluntary consensus standards body" (VCSB), or a method "that would produce reasonably accurate results as demonstrated through peer reviewed references." EPA then issued the Cellulosic Guidance to explain its interpretation of the applicable regulatory requirements and clarify the types of analyses and demonstrations that might meet them.The DC Circuit dismissed in part and denied in part POET's petition for review of the Cellulosic Guidance. The court held that POET's challenge to the Guidance's treatment of VCSB-certified methods is unripe because no such method yet exists and POET's registration efforts rely on the peer-reviewed alternative. In regard to POET's challenge to the Guidance's discussion of peer-reviewed methods, the court held that the Guidance announces a final, interpretive rule that lawfully construes the underlying regulation. View "POET Biorefining, LLC v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied petitions for review challenging FERC's orders concerning SFPP's tariffs. SFPP challenges FERC's decisions to deny SFPP an income tax allowance, to decline to reopen the record on that issue, and to deny SFPP's retroactive adjustment to its index rates. Shippers challenge FERC's disposition of SFPP's accumulated deferred income taxes (ADIT) and its temporal allocation of litigation costs.The court held that FERC's denial of an income tax allowance to SFPP was both consistent with the court's precedent and well-reasoned, and that FERC did not abuse its discretion or act arbitrarily in declining to reopen the record on that issue. Furthermore, FERC reasonably rejected retroactive adjustment to SFPP's index rates. The court also held that FERC correctly found that the rule against retroactive ratemaking prohibited it from refunding or continuing to exclude from rate base SFPP's ADIT balance, and that FERC reasonably allocated litigation costs. View "SFPP, LP v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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In three consolidated petitions for review, petitioners challenged five FERC orders on two intertwined El Paso rate cases under the Natural Gas Act, the 2008 Rate Case and the 2011 Rate Case.The DC Circuit denied the petitions for review, holding that FERC's removal of both the undistributed subsidiary earnings and the loan to El Paso's parent from the equity component of El Paso's capital structure was reasoned and supported by substantial evidence. The court also held that FERC's conclusion that El Paso had not demonstrated that its proposed rates would comply with the 1996 settlement was reasonable; FERC reasonably excluded the two compressor stations from El Paso's rate base; and FERC's approval of a zone-of-delivery rate design measured by contract-paths and its rejection of equilibration for lack of quantitative support were neither arbitrary nor contrary to law. View "El Paso Natural Gas Co., LLC v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review of orders related to FERC's efforts to remove existing barriers to the participation of electric storage resources (ESRs) in the Regional Transmission Organization and Independent System Operator markets (RTO/ISO markets), independent, nonprofit companies that manage segments of the federal grid.The court held that petitioners failed to show that Order Nos. 841 and 841-A run afoul of the Federal Power Act's jurisdictional bifurcation or that they are otherwise arbitrary and capricious. After determining that petitioners have standing to bring their claims and that the matters are ripe for review, the court held that because the challenged orders do nothing more than regulate matters concerning federal transactions – and reiterate ordinary principles of federal preemption – they do not facially exceed FERC's jurisdiction under the Act. The court also held that FERC's decision to reject a state opt-out was adequately explained. View "National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied the Commission's and Intervenor's motions to dismiss the petitions filed after thirty days of Commission inaction. The court explained that, before a party aggrieved by an order of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can obtain judicial review, that party must file an application for rehearing with the Commission. Congress directed that, if the Commission fails to act on that rehearing application within thirty days, the application may be deemed denied, allowing the aggrieved party to proceed to federal court. The court held that under the plain statutory language and context of the Natural Gas Act, such tolling orders are not the kind of action on a rehearing application that can fend off a deemed denial and the opportunity for judicial review.In this case, because the Commission's Tolling Order could not prevent the Homeowners and Environmental Associations from seeking judicial review, the initial petitions for review that they filed challenging the Certificate Order in Nos. 17-1098 and 17-1128 are properly before this court for review, and the motions to dismiss those petitions for lack of jurisdiction are denied. The court held that the Homeowners' and Environmental Associations' challenge to the Certificate Order falls short because the Commission did not rely on precedent agreements alone to find that the pipeline would be a matter of public convenience and necessity. Therefore, the court denied all four petitions for review, as well as the Commission's and Transco's motions to dismiss the petitions for review in Nos. 17-1098 and 17-1128. View "Allegheny Defense Project v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law