Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Wilmington Trust Co. v. AEP Generating Co.
Nearly 20 years after defendants built, sold, and leased back a Rockport Indiana coal-burning power plant, they committed, in a consent decree resolving lawsuits involving alleged Clean Air Act violations at their other power plants, to either make over a billion dollars of emission control improvements to the plant, or shut it down. The sale and leaseback arrangement was a means of financing construction. Defendants then obtained a modification to the consent decree providing that these improvements need not be made until after their lease expired, pushing their commitments to improve the air quality of the plant’s emissions to the plaintiff, the investors who had financed construction and who would own the plant after the 33-year lease term. The district court held this encumbrance did not violate the parties’ contracts governing the sale and leaseback, and that plaintiff’s breach of contract claims precluded it from maintaining an alternative cause of action for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that a Permitted Lien exception in the lease unambiguously supports the plaintiff’s position and that the defendants’ actions “materially adversely affected’ plaintiff’s interests. View "Wilmington Trust Co. v. AEP Generating Co." on Justia Law
Maxxim Rebuild Co., LLC v. Mine Safety & Health Administration
Maxxim’s Sidney, Kentucky repair shop makes and repairs mining equipment and machine parts, employing seven workers. Roughly 75% of the shop’s work is for equipment that Alpha (Maxxim’s parent company) uses to extract or prepare coal at several mines. The rest of the work is for other mining companies and for repair shops that might sell the equipment to mining or non-mining companies. The Maxxim facility does not extract coal or any other mineral, and it does not prepare coal or any other mineral for use. Sidney Coal, another Alpha subsidiary, owned the property and had an office in the upper floor of the Maxxim shop. The Mine Safety and Health Administration had asserted jurisdiction (30 U.S.C. 802(h)) over the Sidney shop and, in 2013, issued several citations. Maxxim challenged the Administration’s power to issue the citations. An administrative law judge’s ruling that the Sidney shop was “a coal or other mine” was upheld by the independent agency responsible for reviewing the Administration’s citations. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The definition of “coal or other mine” refers to locations, equipment and other things in, above, beneath, or appurtenant to active mines; the Maxxim facility is not a mine subject to the Administration’s jurisdiction. View "Maxxim Rebuild Co., LLC v. Mine Safety & Health Administration" on Justia Law
Energy Conversion Devices Liquidation Trust v. Trina Solar Ltd.
The defendant companies, based in China, produce conventional solar energy panels. Energy Conversion and other American manufacturers produce the newer thin-film panels. The Chinese producers sought greater market shares. They agreed to export more products to the U.S. and to sell them below cost. Several entities supported their endeavor. Suppliers provided discounts, a trade association facilitated cooperation, and the Chinese government provided below-cost financing. From 2008-2011, the average selling prices of their panels fell over 60%. American manufacturers consulted the Department of Commerce, which found that the Chinese firms had harmed American industry through illegal dumping and assessed substantial tariffs. The American manufacturers continued to suffer; more than 20 , including Energy Conversion, filed for bankruptcy or closed. Energy Conversion sued under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, and Michigan law, seeking $3 billion in treble damages, claiming that the Chinese companies had unlawfully conspired “to sell Chinese manufactured solar panels at unreasonably low or below cost prices . . . to destroy an American industry.” Because this allegation did not state that the Chinese companies could or would recoup their losses by charging monopoly prices after driving competitors from the field, the court dismissed the claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Without such an allegation or any willingness to prove a reasonable prospect of recoupment, the court correctly rejected the claim. View "Energy Conversion Devices Liquidation Trust v. Trina Solar Ltd." on Justia Law
Journey Acquisition-II, L.P. v. EQT Prod.Co.
In 2001, EQT sold or leased to Journey several oil- and natural-gas-producing properties in Kentucky. Both parties continued to conduct oil and natural-gas operations in the state, but Journey later concluded that EQT was operating on some of the lands that had been conveyed to Journey. Journey sought a declaration that it owned or controlled those properties and that EQT was liable for the oil and natural gas that EQT had removed from those properties. The district court concluded on summary judgment that the parties’ 2001 contract had unambiguously conveyed the disputed properties to Journey. A jury found that EQT’s trespasses on Journey’s lands were not in good faith. The court subsequently required EQT to pay $14,288,432 in damages and transfer certain oil and natural-gas wells to Journey. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the district court erred in construing the parties’ contract, in excluding portions of EQT’s proffered evidence, and in crafting the remedy for EQT’s trespasses. EQT carried out its drilling despite obvious indicators that its ownership of the underlying property was doubtful, establishing an ample basis to conclude that EQT’s trespasses were not in good faith. View "Journey Acquisition-II, L.P. v. EQT Prod.Co." on Justia Law
Sierra Club v. United States Forest Serv.
Pursuant to 30 U.S.C. 185(a), in 1953, the U.S. Forest Service issued Enbridge’s predecessor a permit for use of an 8.10-mile strip within the Lower Michigan National Forest for a crude oil pipeline (Line 5). In 1992, USFS reissued the permit through December 2012, noting that USFS “shall renew the authorization” if the line "is being operated and maintained in accordance with" the authorization and other applicable laws. In 2011-2012, after a different Enbridge pipeline spilled oil into the Kalamazoo River, Enbridge obtained permit amendments to install “emergency flow release device[s]” on Line 5. In 2012, Enbridge requested permit renewal for Line 5. USFS conducted field studies on the potential impact on wildlife and vegetation; contacted the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to confirm compliance with pipeline regulations; and accepted public comments. USFS proposed a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4332(2)(C), from the requirement of an Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment, categorizing the application as replacement of an existing or expired special use authorization, "the only changes are administrative, there are not changes to the authorized facilities or increases in the scope or intensity of authorized activities, and the holder is in full compliance." Sierra Club objected, noting that no EA or EIS had ever been completed for Line 5 because the original permit issued before enactment of NEPA and that intensity of activities along the pipeline had increased. USFS granted a categorical exclusion after considering biological assessment reports and finding “no extraordinary circumstances which may result in significant individual or cumulative effects on the quality of the environment.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment, upholding re-issue of Enbridge’s permit. USFS followed appropriate decision-making processes and reached a non-arbitrary conclusion. View "Sierra Club v. United States Forest Serv." on Justia Law
Broad St. Energy Co. v. Endeavor Ohio, LLC
For some time, Broad Street Energy has owned many Ohio oil-and-gas leases. The market has changed to use of shale-drilling (fracking) to extract oil and gas from shale formations deeper than the formations from which Broad Street has extracted oil. Fracking requires leases of at least 640 acres, as opposed to the 20-to-40-acre leases that Broad Street required for conventional wells. Endeavor agreed to pay $35 million for many of Broad Street’s leases, plus wells, pipelines, and related property. Endeavor put $3.5 million in escrow. Broad Street delivered a list of assets and title limitations. Before closing, Endeavor conducted due diligence and told Broad Street that it found title defects affecting 40% of the leases and reducing the value of the assets by 55%. Endeavor did not seek more information or invoke the agreement’s dispute-resolution process, but terminated on the ground that the title defects reduced value by at least 30%. Broad Street responded several times, disputing those statements and insisting on at least implementing dispute-resolution procedures With no response, it sued. A jury awarded Broad Street the $3.5 million escrow, plus interest. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting the relative sophistication of the parties and that the contract did not permit Endeavor to terminate unilaterally based on its own assessment of title defects and their value. View "Broad St. Energy Co. v. Endeavor Ohio, LLC" on Justia Law
Fla. Power Corp. v. FirstEnergy Corp.
After discovering hazardous contaminants at Sanford and Orlando coal gasification plants in the 1990s, the EPA concluded that Florida Power and previous owners were liable for costs of removal and remediation. In 1998 and 2003, Florida Power entered into “Administrative Order by Consent for Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Studies” (AOCs) with the EPA for the sites, under which Power agreed to conduct studies to determine the public safety threat and evaluate options for remedial action. Power agreed to pay the EPA about $534,000 for past response costs at the sites. After the investigation and study at the Sanford site, the EPA entered Records of Decision. In 2009, the court approved a consent decree for actual performance of the Sanford remediation. Regarding the Orlando site, Power submitted a draft Remedial Investigation Report, Risk Assessment, and Remedial Alternative Technical Memorandum that was under EPA review when, in 2011, Power filed this cost recovery and contribution action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, 42 U.S.C. 9601) against a successor to a former owner-operator of the sites. The court dismissed, finding that the 1998 and 2003 AOCs were “settlement agreements” and triggered CERCLA’s three-year statute of limitations. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that the AOCs did not constitute “administrative settlements.” View "Fla. Power Corp. v. FirstEnergy Corp." on Justia Law
Little v. Louisville Gas & Elec. Co.
Plaintiffs allege that, beginning in 2008, they have had a persistent film of dust over their properties, coming from Cane Run power plant, which is owned and operated by LGE. Louisville’s Air Pollution Control District, the agency charged with enforcing environmental regulations in Jefferson County, investigated and issued several Notices of Violation concerning particulate emissions and odors, finding finding that LGE allowed fly ash particulate emissions to enter the air and be carried beyond its property line. The NOVs were resolved by an administrative proceeding before Louisville’s Air Pollution Control Board, which resulted in an Agreed Board Order, requiring LGE to implement and comply, with a “Plant-Wide Odor, Fugitive Dust, and Maintenance Emissions Control Plan.” Plaintiffs provided a Notice of Intent to Sue, alleging violations of the Clean Air Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and state-law claims of nuisance, trespass, negligence, negligence per se, and gross negligence. The district court dismissed all federal law claims except the claim that Cane Run was operating without a valid Clean Air Act permit and rejected defendants’ argument that the Clean Air Act preempted plaintiffs’ state common law claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, View "Little v. Louisville Gas & Elec. Co." on Justia Law
Ky. Coal Ass’n, Inc. v. Tenn. Valley Auth.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, a federal agency, operates power plants that provide electricity to nine million Americans in the Southeastern United States, 16 U.S.C. 831n-4(h). Like private power companies, TVA must comply with the Clean Air Act. In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency told TVA that it needed to reduce emissions from some of the coal-fired units at its plants, including the Drakesboro, Kentucky, Paradise Fossil Plant. TVA considered several options, including maintaining coal-fired generation by retrofitting the Paradise units with new pollution controls and switching the fuel source from coal to natural gas. After more than a year of environmental study, TVA decided to switch from coal to natural-gas generation and concluded that the conversion would be better for the environment. TVA issued a “finding of no significant impact” on the environment stemming from the newly configured project. The district court denied opponents a preliminary injunction, and granted TVA judgment on the administrative record. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that TVA acted arbitrarily in failing to follow the particulars of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act for making such decisions, and in failing to consider the project’s environmental effects in an impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act. View "Ky. Coal Ass'n, Inc. v. Tenn. Valley Auth." on Justia Law