Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (“PEDF”) challenged for the third time, the use of proceeds from oil and gas leasing on the Commonwealth’s forest and park lands as violative of Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, also known as the Environmental Rights Amendment. (“Section 27” or “ERA”). In previous trips before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, PEDF challenged several 2009-2025 budgetary provisions enacted challenging the use of proceeds from oil and gas leasing on the Commonwealth’s forest and park lands as violative of Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, also known as the Environmental Rights Amendment. (“Section 27” or “ERA”). In the first two cases, PEDF challenged several 2009-2015 budgetary provisions enacted in the wake of dramatic increases in oil and gas revenue resulting from Marcellus Shale exploration in Pennsylvania. Applying trust principles, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the budgetary provisions violated Section 27 by utilizing the oil and gas revenue for non-trust purposes via transfers to the General Fund. PEDF v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (Pa. 2017) (“PEDF II”); PEDF v. Commonwealth, 255 A.3d 289 (Pa. 2021) (“PEDF V”). The underlying case here was one for a declaratory judgment, and named the Commonwealth and Governor as parties. Here, PEDF raised numerous constitutional challenges to provisions of the General Appropriations Act of 2017 and 2018, as well as the 2017 Fiscal Code amendments, all of which were enacted after the Supreme Court’s decision in PEDF II. After review , the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court, whilst rejecting that court;s analysis derived from PEDF III. View "PA Enviro Defense Fdn, Aplt. v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving the application of Crowned Ridge Wind, LLC for a permit to construct a wind energy farm in northeast South Dakota, holding that the PUC acted within its discretion in this case.After a contested hearing, the PUC issued a written decision approving the permit. Two individuals who lived in rural areas near the project and had intervened to oppose Crowned Ridge's application sought review. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) neither of the Intervenors' evidentiary claims were sustainable; and (2) even if the Intervenors' claims were preserved for appeal, the PUC acted within its discretion when it denied the Intervenors' challenges to certain testimony. View "Christenson v. Crowned Ridge Wind, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving the application of Crowned Ridge Wind II, LLC to construct a large wind energy farm in northeast South Dakota, holding that the PUC followed the applicable statutory directives in granting the construction permit and properly determined that Crowned Ridge satisfied its burden of proof under S.D. Codified Laws 49-41B-22.After a contested hearing, the PUC issued a written decision approving the permit. Two individuals who lived in rural areas near the project and had intervened to oppose Crowned Ridge's application sought review. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the PUC did not err when it determined that Crowned Ridge met its burden of proof to comply with all applicable laws and rules; and (2) the PUC's findings were not clearly erroneous as they related to crowned Ridge's burden under S.D. Codified Laws 49-41B-22(3). View "Christenson v. Crowned Ridge Wind, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the Florida Public Service Commission denying Duke Energy Florida, LLC's (DEF) request to recover approximately $16 from its customers for costs DEF incurred to meet its customers' demand for electricity, holding that the cost recovery should have been allowed.The costs at issue were incurred when a 420-megawatt (MW) steam-powered generating unit went offline at DEF's Bartow plant and was placed back in service at a derated capacity of 380 MW. After a hearing, an administrative law judge entered a recommended order denying cost recovery. The commission adopted the ALJ's recommendation in the final order on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the factual findings forming the basis for the ALJ's ultimate causation determination were not supported by competent, substantial evidence. View "Duke Energy Florida, LLC v. Clark" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the North Carolina Utilities Commission addressing Dominion Energy North Carolina's application for a general increase in its North Carolina retail rates, holding that Dominion's challenges to the Commission's order were unavailing.In the order at issue, the Commission authorized Dominion to calculate its North Carolina retail rates by, inter alia, amortizing certain costs. Dominion appealed, arguing that the Commission acted capriciously and arbitrarily in failing to follow applicable precedent. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission's order was supported by competent, substantial evidence and that the Commission adequately explained the basis for the portions of its decision that Dominion challenged on appeal. View "State ex rel. Utilities Commission v. Virginia Electric & Power Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Energy Facility Siting Board (the board or EFSB) concerning the relocation of power lines across the Providence and Seekonk Rivers, holding that Petitioners had standing and that review of the Board's decisions was timely.Petitioners in this case were the City of Providence, Friends of India Point Park, The Hilton Garden Inn, and The R.I. Seafood Festival. Petitioners sought review of a January 17, 2018 order in which the Board stated that the "bridge alignment north" and the "underground alignment" were not feasible but approved the "bridge alignment south." Respondents - EFSB, the City of East Providence, and National Grid - sought review of the order. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) all Petitioners except for Hilton lacked standing in this matter; and (2) while the Board's order was deficient, the next preferred alignment was the bridge alignment south, and therefore, the order of the Board is upheld. View "In re Narragansett Electric Co." on Justia Law

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William Danks appealed a district court judgment affirming the Public Utilities Commission’s (“PUC’s” or “Commission’s”) decision that a gas-gathering system operated by DCP Operating Company, L.P. (“DCP”) did not meet the statutory definition of a public utility and therefore was not subject to the PUC’s jurisdiction. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the PUC regularly pursued its authority in reaching this decision, that the decision was just and reasonable, and that the PUC’s conclusions were in accordance with the evidence. View "Danks v. Colorado Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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The City of Salisbury, North Carolina relies on the Yankin River for its drinking water. The City constructed a pump station on the Yankin River, which the City believed was threatened by a plan proposed by the operator of a nearby hydroelectric damn and approved by FERC. The City challenged the plan and FERC's approval.The D.C. Circuit dismissed the City's petition, finding that the proposed rule was within the license granted to the dam operator and was not arbitrary. The operator of the dam was required to implement a flood protection plan, including 1.) physical modifications to the facilities such as a protective dike for the pump station, 2.) improved access to the pump station with the road consistent with the City of Salisbury’s design or 3.) other feasible options for achieving the same benefits. The proposed plan meets the requirement of the flood protection plan. Additionally, the court determined that FERC's approval of the plan was not arbitrary. View "City of Salisbury, North Carolina v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the decisions of the lower courts affirming a general permit that the Maryland Department of the Environment issued for operators of thirty-five small municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) in Maryland, including Petitioner Queen Anne's County, which operated a small MS4, holding that conditions based on regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the general permit for small MS4s are not unlawful simply because they may exceed the minimum requirements of the Clean Water Act.In Maryland Department of the Environment v. County Commissioners of Carroll County, 140 S. Ct. 1265 (2020), the Court of Appeals held that permits issued to counties that operated MS4s were lawful even if some permit conditions exceeded the minimum requirements of the Act. In the instant case, the circuit court for Queen Anne's County concluded that the decision in Carroll County addressed the issues raised by the County and affirmed the permit. The court of special appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the holdings of Carroll County applied in this case; and (2) an impervious surface restoration requirement in the permit, which was similar to but less onerous than a permit requirement assessed in Carroll County, did not unlawfully make the County responsible for discharges by third parties. View "Small MS4 Coalition v. Department of Environment" on Justia Law

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Defendants, ERR, LLC; Evergreen Resource Recovery, LLC (collectively “ERR”), owns and operates a wastewater treatment facility. One of ERR’s spill contractors, Oil Mop, performed oil removal and soil remediation. Oil Mop submitted a claim to the National Pollution Funds Center (“NPFC”) for reimbursement of removal costs after ERR refused to pay. The NPFC reimbursed Oil Mop and billed ERR for what it paid Oil Mop.   ERR refused to pay and the Government then sued ERR for what it paid Oil Mop. The Government moved to strike ERR’s demand for a jury trial.  The district court held a bench trial after concluding that the Government’s Oil Pollution Act (“OPA”) claims sound not in law but in equity.   On appeal, the Fifth Circuit addressed ERR’s Seventh Amendment challenge and held that the Seventh Amendment guarantees ERR’s right to a jury trial of the Government’s OPA claims. The court explained that it must consider two factors when determining whether a right of action requires a jury trial. First, the court compared the statutory action to 18th-century actions brought in the courts of England prior to the merger of the courts of law and equity. Second, the court examined the remedy sought and determined whether it is legal or equitable in nature.   Here, the court concluded that the Recoupment Claim sounds in law and hence triggers ERR’s Seventh Amendment right to a jury. Next, the court held that both the nature of the Government’s action and the type of remedy sound in law. View "USA v. E.R.R." on Justia Law