Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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Riverkeeper petitioned for review of FERC's Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity conditionally approving the Leidy Project. The DC Circuit denied the petition and held that it had jurisdiction to consider Riverkeeper's challenge to the Certificate Order on the ground that FERC violated the sequencing requirement of the Clean Water Act (CWA) by issuing its Certificate Order before Pennsylvania issued its section 401 certification; the sequencing requirement of section 401 was not triggered because the Commission's conditional approval of the Leidy Project construction did not authorize any activity which might result in a discharge in navigable waters; the court need not decide whether the letter orders impermissibly approved activity that might have resulted in a discharge before Pennsylvania issued its section 401 certification; FERC did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by misclassifying wetlands; even if FERC technically erred in some of its classifications, Riverkeeper has not shown any prejudice; and FERC's NEPA review of the Leidy Project's proposed gas flow velocities appeared to be fully informed and well-considered. View "Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Section 309 of the Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. 825h, vests the Commission with broad remedial authority, including the authority to grant recoupment when it is justified; Section 201(f) does not limit the authority of the Commission to grant relief under Section 309 with respect to matters that are beyond the strictures of Sections 201(f) and 205; and an order of recoupment, as distinguished from an order to refund under Section 205, is beyond the strictures of Sections 201(f) and 205. In this case, Chehalis sought relief from the Commission by filing a Motion for an Order Requiring Recoupment of Payments, but the Commission concluded that it could not order recoupment because the Commission's refund authority does not extend to exempt public utilities such as the Intervenor Bonneville. The DC Circuit held that the Commission erred when it held that it lacked the authority to grant the Order Requiring Recoupment where the Commission clearly had jurisdiction over the subject of this dispute and the Commission retained the authority to order Bonneville to return the funds when the agency acknowledged that its initial order was mistaken. The court granted in part and denied in part Chehalis's petitions for review, and remanded for further proceedings. View "TNA Merchant Projects v. FERC" on Justia Law

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A district court has broad discretion to decide whether and when to grant an agency's request for a voluntary remand. But a voluntary remand is typically appropriate only when the agency intends to revisit the challenged agency decision on review. After the Department rejected Limnia's two loan applications, Limnia filed suit alleging that the Department's rejection of Limnia's applications was unlawful under the Administrative Procedure Act. The district court then granted the Department's voluntary remand request. The DC Circuit held that the district court erred by granting the Department's request for a voluntary remand in this case because the Department did not intend to revisit the original application decisions under review. Therefore, the DC Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Limnia, Inc. v. DOE" on Justia Law

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Section 210 of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA), 16 U.S.C. 824a-3, seeks to reduce reliance on fossil fuels by increasing the number of energy-efficient cogeneration and small power-production facilities. Oregon implements its PURPA responsibilities largely through its Public Utility Commission (OPUC), which has directed utilities subject to its jurisdiction to draft off-the-shelf, standard-form power-purchase agreements that OPUC then reviews for compliance with PURPA. OPUC has approved two standard-form power-purchase agreements submitted by petitioner Portland General Electric. Petitioner PáTu Wind Farm, a six-turbine, nine-megawatt generator in rural Oregon, is classified under PURPA as a small power producer. This appeal stems from the parties' dispute over the nature of Portland General's purchase obligation. The Commission ruled that under PURPA, Portland General must purchase all of PáTu’s power, though it rejected PáTu’s insistence that Portland General do so by utilizing a technology known as dynamic scheduling. The court concluded that PáTu’s petition dealing exclusively with Portland's refusal to utilize dynamic scheduling is without merit. Accordingly, the court denied PáTu’s petition. The court dismissed Portland's petition challenging the Commission's ruling that it must purchase all of PáTu’s power for lack of jurisdiction because FERC's orders were advisory. View "Portland General Electric Comp v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Transmissions Owners provide transmission services for customers in New England. Consumers, Massachusetts and various consumer-side stakeholders, filed suit under section 206 of the Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. 824e(a), alleging that Transmission Owners' base return on equity (ROE) had become unjust and unreasonable. At issue are FERC's orders in the section 206 proceeding. Both Transmission Owners and Customers filed petitions for review challenging whether FERC satisfied the statutory requirements under section 206 in setting a new ROE. The court explained that, to satisfy its dual burden under section 206, FERC was required to do more than show that its single ROE analysis generated a new just and reasonable ROE and conclusively declare that, consequently, the existing ROE was per se unjust and unreasonable. Therefore, the court concluded that, because FERC's single ROE analysis failed to include an actual finding as to the lawfulness of Transmission Owners' existing base ROE, FERC acted arbitrarily and outside of its statutory authority in setting a new base ROE for Transmission Owners. The court also concluded that FERC failed to provide any reasoned basis for selecting 10.57 percent as the new base ROE. Accordingly, the court granted the petitions for review, vacated FERC's orders, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Maine v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a major producer of solar power, challenged the Commission's order denying its effort to obtain financial instruments known as Congestion Revenue Rights. The court concluded that FERC erroneously determined that the relevant contract and tariff provisions unambiguously foreclose petitioner's request. In this case, the court held that FERC overlooked an ambiguity in the Interconnection Agreement. Therefore, the court remanded to the Commission so that it may consider the question in light of the ambiguity. View "NextEra Desert Center Blythe v. FERC" on Justia Law

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This case concerns the Trans Alaska Pipeline System. Oil companies depositing crude oil extracted from their fields on the North Slope into the pipeline receive the same proportion of oil they initially contributed at the southern end of the pipeline at Valdez, but the companies do not receive the same quality of oil because the oil has been commingled in the pipeline. FERC oversees a mechanism for calibrating payments known as the Quality Bank, which assigns each company’s crude oil a value based on the quality of its components or "cuts." At issue is the formula used to value one of these cuts, called Resid. The court concluded that the Commission failed to respond meaningfully to evidence presented by Petro Star, rendering its decision arbitrary and capricious, and that Petro Star’s purported failure to provide a viable methodology does not provide an independent ground for the Commission’s decision. Therefore, the court granted the petition for review and remanded for the Commission to reconsider the methodology used to value Resid or to provide a more reasoned explanation for its approach. The court also found that Alaska lacks standing to intervene. View "Petro Star Inc. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Secretary of Labor exercised his authority under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, Pub. L. No. 95-164, 91 Stat. 1290, to promulgate regulations that require mine operators to test the continuity and resistance of “grounding systems” for mining equipment. At issue is whether the Secretary properly determined that power cables and extension cords are regulated parts of those “grounding systems.” The court upheld the Secretary’s decision because, under the regulations’ plain language, power cables and extension cords are most naturally considered components of “grounding systems.” Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review. View "Tilden Mining Co. v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Dominion obtained authorization from the Commission to convert the Cove Point liquefied natural gas (“LNG”) facility from an import maritime terminal to a mixed-use, import and export terminal. BP Energy receives pipeline and terminal services as an import customer of Cove Point under a contract with Dominion, the facility's owner. BP Energy petitions for review of the Commission’s determination that Dominion did not act in an unduly discriminatory manner under section 3(e)(4) of the Natural Gas Act (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717b(e)(4), when it agreed to shorten the contract term of a non-open access customer’s terminal services contract, Statoil Natural Gas, without offering a corresponding “turn back” option to open access customers such as BP Energy. The court remanded to the Commission for further explanation of why the 2012 turn back agreement between Dominion and Statoil was not unduly discriminatory as to BP Energy under NGA section 3(e)(4). Although the court need not reach BP Energy’s contention that the agreement was an impermissible “sweetheart deal,” the Commission may also wish to consider and explain on remand the extent to which such a deal is relevant to the undue discrimination analysis. View "BP Energy Co. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners seek review of the Commissions' conditional authorization of the conversion of the Cove Point liquefied natural gas (“LNG”) facility from an import maritime terminal to a mixed-use, import and export terminal. For the reasons set forth in Sierra Club v. FERC (Freeport), the court concluded that the Commission was not required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., to consider indirect effects of increased natural gas exports through the Cove Point facility, including climate impacts. In regard to petitioners’ remaining challenges to the Commission’s NEPA analysis of the impacts of ballast water on water quality, maritime traffic on the North Atlantic right whale, and the Cove Point facility’s operations on public safety, the court concluded that petitioners fail to show that the Commission did not adequately address these concerns. Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review. View "EarthReports, Inc. v. FERC" on Justia Law