Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
In re Application of East Ohio Gas Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approving a stipulation that authorized Dominion Energy Ohio to implement its capital expenditure program rider (CEP Rider), holding that the Commission's orders were not unlawful or unreasonable.Dominion filed an application to recover the costs of its capital expenditure program by establishing the CEP Rider at issue. Dominion and the Commission jointly filed a stipulation asking the Commission to approve the application subject to the staff's recommendations. The Commission modified and approved the stipulation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commission did not violate an important regulatory principle in adopting the 9.91 percent rate of return; (2) the Commission did not inconsistently apply its precedent; (3) the Commission did not violate Ohio Rev. Code 4903.09; and (4) Appellants' manifest-weight-of-the-evidence argument failed. View "In re Application of East Ohio Gas Co." on Justia Law
Healthy Gulf v. US Army Corps of Eng
Driftwood LNG and Driftwood Pipeline (jointly “Driftwood”) want to convert natural gas produced in the United States into liquefied natural gas (“LNG”) for export to international markets. That undertaking involves building an LNG production and export terminal and a pipeline that will connect to existing interstate pipeline systems; the terminal would be located on the Calcasieu River in Louisiana. Numerous federal and state agencies are involved in the approval and permitting process for projects such as Driftwood’s. One of those agencies— the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“the Corps”)—granted Driftwood one of the requisite permits. Petitioners Healthy Gulf and Sierra Club petition for review of that permit, alleging that the Corps’s decision violated the governing statute and was arbitrary and capricious. The Fifth Circuit denied the petition. The court explained that the record reveals thorough analysis and cooperation by the Corps and other agencies and a lucid explanation of why the Corps was permitting a departure from the default hierarchy. The court wrote that the approval process spanned several years and involved detailed analysis by (and often the cooperation of) FERC, the Corps, the EPA, the National Marine Fisheries Services, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and LDEQ, among others. The administrative record is over 24,000 pages and provides more than enough insight into the agencies’ deliberations. Moreover, the court explained that both the Corps and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (which issued Driftwood a Coastal Use permit) imposed conditions on Driftwood to ensure that it did not dredge and use contaminated material. View "Healthy Gulf v. US Army Corps of Eng" on Justia Law
SEIA V. FERC
This case involves rules adopted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to implement the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA). Congress enacted PURPA to encourage the development of a new class of independent, non-utility-owned energy producers known as “Qualifying Facilities,” or “QFs.” PURPA tasks FERC with promulgating rules to implement the statute. In 2020, FERC revised its rules to alter which facilities qualify for PURPA’s benefits and how those facilities are compensated. The new rules make it more difficult to qualify for treatment as a QF, and they also make QF status less advantageous.The Ninth Circuit granted in part and denied in part a petition for review brought by the Solar Energy Industries Association and several environmental organizations challenging Orders 872 and 872-A (collectively, “Order 872”). The panel rejected Petitioners’ argument that Order 872 as a whole is inconsistent with PURPA’s directive that FERC “encourage” the development of QFs. Applying the two-step framework of Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. NRDC, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), the panel held that (1) PURPA on its face gives FERC broad discretion to evaluate which rules are necessary to encourage QFs and which are not, and (2) FERC’s interpretation was not unreasonable. Next, the panel rejected Petitioners’ challenges to four specific provisions of Order 872. First, the panel held that the modified Site Rule—which modified the rules for determining when facilities are deemed to be located at the same or separate sites—survives Chevron, is not arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and is not unlawfully retroactive. View "SEIA V. FERC" on Justia Law
Sound Rivers, Inc. v. N.C. Dep’t of Environmental Quality
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the administrative law judge (ALJ) from the Office of Administrative Hearings affirming the decision of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Resources (Division) to issue a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit to Martin Marietta Materials, Inc., holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.The permit at issue allowed Martin Marietta to discharge twelve million gallons of mining wastewater per day from Vanceboro Quarry into Blounts Creek tributaries. The ALJ affirmed the issuance of the permit. The superior court reversed, concluding that the Division failed to ensure "reasonable compliance with the biological integrity standard." The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the permit was properly and validly issued in accordance with the applicable regulations. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the ALJ properly made findings of fact and properly applied those facts to a correct interpretation of the regulatory plain language. View "Sound Rivers, Inc. v. N.C. Dep't of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law
Jonah Energy LLC v. Wyo. Dep’t of Revenue
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Board of Equalization upholding the final determinations of the Department of Revenue (DOR) increasing the taxable value of Jonah Energy LLC's natural gas liquids (NGL) production for 2014 through 2016, holding that Jonah was not entitled to relief on its allegations of error.On appeal, Jonah argued that the Board misinterpreted the NGL purchase agreement between Jonah and the purchaser of its NGL, Enterprise Products Operating LLC, by refusing to account for deficiency fees Jonah paid to Enterprise in determining the NGL's taxable value. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Board did not misinterpret the NGL purchase agreement at issue; and (2) the Board did not err by failing to take the facts and circumstances surrounding execution of the purchase agreement into account when interpreting it because there was no basis for losing outside the four corners of the purchase agreement to determine its meaning. View "Jonah Energy LLC v. Wyo. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law
American Petroleum, et al. v. U.S. Department of Interior, et al.
After the Department of the Interior amended regulations in 2016, the American Petroleum Institute (API) challenged several of the regulations that governed the calculation of royalties for oil and natural gas produced on federal lands. The district court rejected these challenges at summary judgment, and API appealed. Because API did not show that the agency acted arbitrarily and capriciously in enacting the challenged provisions of the 2016 regulations, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "American Petroleum, et al. v. U.S. Department of Interior, et al." on Justia Law
Vistra Corp. v. FERC
Vistra Corporation, joined by several other electricity suppliers, petitioned the DC Circuit to review three underlying orders of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. These orders involve the sale of electricity in capacity markets. In response to periodic concerns, the Commission has adjusted the market’s features to ensure that it remains competitive. Vistra and accompanying suppliers (collectively, Petitioners) brought three arguments challenging the discontinuance of the default offer cap. The court explained that the Commission adequately explained its choice to rely on unit-specific review rather than a default offer cap, including that Petitioners’ recalibrated alternative would not have sufficiently mitigated anti-competition concerns. The court explained that the Commission also addressed its accounting of the risks associated with acquiring a capacity commitment, risks that it explained are limited to participation in a capacity market. Finally, Petitioners’ Section 205 rights remain intact. The Commission reasonably interpreted supplier offers in capacity markets to be merely input into obtaining the market-clearing price. These inputs are not the ultimate rates that come out of the market, which are, in turn, subject to Section 205. View "Vistra Corp. v. FERC" on Justia Law
Fairless Energy, LLC v. FERC
Petitioner Fairless Energy, LLC (Fairless Energy) contends that it pays too much for the transportation of natural gas to fuel its electric power generating plant located in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania (the Fairless plant). In these consolidated petitions for review of orders of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (the Commission), Fairless Energy maintains that the Commission acted arbitrarily and capriciously, and contrary to reasoned decision-making, when it exercised primary jurisdiction over Fairless Energy’s natural gas transportation rate dispute with intervenor Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC (Transco), and determined that the appropriate rate was the incremental rate for pipeline expansion under Transco’s Tariff. The DC Circuit denied the petitions for review. The court held that Fairless Energy fails to demonstrate that either the Commission’s exercise of primary jurisdiction over the Transco-Fairless Energy natural gas transportation rate dispute or its decision regarding the appropriate rate was arbitrary and capricious. The court explained that the Commission reasonably started its evaluation with the 2018 Agreement’s Exhibit C and determined that it unambiguously “did not establish a negotiated rate” because it stated “None” in the location for the specification of a negotiated rate. After reaching this decision, the Commission was appropriately able to decline to consider extrinsic evidence. View "Fairless Energy, LLC v. FERC" on Justia Law
In the Matter of the Denial of Contested Case Hearing Requests & Issuance of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System
The Supreme Court held that an action taken by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in issuing a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System/State Disposal System permit was arbitrary and capricious and that the permit did not comply with a Minnesota rule addressing wastewater discharges to groundwater, Minn. R. 7060.0600, subp. 2.At issue was the MPCA's issuance of the permit for a Poly Met Mining, Inc. project. The court of appeals reversed in part, concluding that the MPCA failed properly to consider whether the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) applied to future discharges from Poly Met's facility to groundwater. The Supreme Court remanded the cause, holding (1) remand was required because there were suggestions that the MPCA did not properly consider whether the permit complies with the CWA and that the MPCA did not genuinely engage in reasoned decision-making; (2) remand was required for consideration of whether a variance was available to allow the planned discharge to the unsaturated zone within the containment system; and (3) the prohibition on injecting polluted water directly to the groundwater saturated zone for long-term storage did not apply in this case. View "In the Matter of the Denial of Contested Case Hearing Requests & Issuance of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System" on Justia Law
Western Watersheds Project, et al. v. United States Bureau of Land Management, et al.
Three conservation groups challenged the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s approval of Jonah Energy’s development project on state and federal land in Wyoming. The project was designed to drill exploratory wells on land for which Jonah possessed development rights. The conservation groups argued the district court erred in upholding the BLM’s approval under the National Environmental Protection Act and the Federal Land Polocy and Management Act. Specifically, they contended the BLM inadequately considered the impact of the project on the sage-grouse and pronghorn antelope migration and grazing patterns. The Tenth Circuit concluded the BLM adequately collected and considered information on the sage-grouse and pronghorn, and selected a development plan that met statutory requirements. View "Western Watersheds Project, et al. v. United States Bureau of Land Management, et al." on Justia Law