Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order directing the DOE to publish four energy conservation standards in the Federal Register and rejected DOE's challenges to the district court's assertion of jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. 6305(a)(2). The panel held that DOE relinquished whatever discretion it might have had to withhold publication of the rules when it adopted the error-correction rule. Furthermore, the absence of genuine ambiguity in the rule's meaning precluded the panel from deferring to DOE's contrary interpretation. The panel also held that section 6305(a)(2) provides the necessary "clear and unequivocal waiver" of sovereign immunity from citizen suits predicated on a non-discretionary duty imposed either by statute or regulation. Therefore, plaintiffs properly invoked the Energy Policy and Conservation Act's citizen-suit provision to challenge DOE's failure to perform its nondiscretionary duty to submit the four rules at issue. View "Natural Resources Defense Council v. Perry" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Pit River Tribe and environmental organizations in an action under the Geothermal Steam Act, against federal agencies responsible for administering twenty-six unproven geothermal leases located in California's Medicine Lake Highlands. Pit River alleged that the BLM's decision to continue the terms of the unproven leases for up to forty years violated the Act. Determining that it had jurisdiction to hear this appeal, the panel held that the statutory meaning of 30 U.S.C. 1005(a) is clear and unambiguous: it only permits production-based continuations on a lease-by-lease basis, not on a unit-wide basis. In this case, BLM failed to meet its burden of providing a compelling reason for the panel to depart from the plain meaning of section 1005(a). Therefore, the panel rejected BLM's argument that section 1005(a) authorizes forty-year continuations on a unit-wide basis once a single lease in a unit is deemed productive. View "Pit River Tribe v. Bureau of Land Management" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs, small scale solar producers, filed suit alleging that CPUC's programs did not comply with the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), because CPUC incorrectly defined the amount that PURPA requires utilities to pay qualifying facilities (QFs). The district court dismissed plaintiffs' claims for equitable damages and attorney fees, entering summary judgment for CPUC on the PURPA challenges. The panel held that the district court erred in not interpreting FERC's regulations to require state utility commissions to consider whether a Renewables Portfolio Standard changed the calculation of avoided cost. Accordingly, the panel reversed as to this issue. The panel affirmed in all other respects, holding that utilities did not violate PURPA in not compensating QFs for Renewable Energy Credits and the Net Energy Metering Program did not violate PURPA's interconnection requirement. The panel also affirmed the dismissal of equitable damages and attorney fees claims. View "Californians for Renewable Energy v. California Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs challenged California Air Resources Board regulations regarding the first Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), which went into effect in 2011; the LCFS as amended in 2012; and the LCFS which replaced the first LCFS in 2015. The Ninth Circuit held that plaintiffs' challenges to previous versions of the LCFS have been made moot by their repeal. The panel affirmed the dismissal of plaintiffs' remaining claims against the present version of the LCFS as largely precluded by the panel's decision in Rocky Mountain Farmers Union v. Corey, 730 F.3d 1070 (9th Cir. 2013). The panel also held that plaintiffs' extraterritoriality claims against the 2015 LCFS were precluded by the law of the case and by recent circuit precedent in Am. Fuel & Petrochemical Mfrs. v. O'Keeffe, 903 F.3d 903 (9th Cir. 2018). Finally, the LCFS did not facially discriminate against interstate commerce in its treatment of ethanol and crude oil, and did not purposefully discriminate against out-of-state ethanol. View "Rocky Mountain Farmers Union v. Corey" on Justia Law

by
FERC acted arbitrarily and capriciously in denying a complaint brought by the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts alleging that PG&E breached agreements between the parties. The Ninth Circuit granted the petition for review of FERC's orders and held that FERC misinterpreted the definition of "Adverse Impact" to the service territories of the Districts, and thus improperly disposed of the Districts' complaints without determining whether changes to the Remedial Action Scheme may result in reductions in transmission over the California-Oregon Transmission Project. The panel also held that FERC applied the wrong standard for initiating a study when making its factual findings. The panel directed FERC on remand to apply the broader definition of Adverse Impact that included reductions in import capability over the California-Oregon Transmission Project and the proper standard for requesting a study in determining whether PG&E breached the Interconnection Agreements. View "Turlock Irrigation District v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit granted CPUC's petition for review of FERC's determination that PG&E was eligible for an incentive adder for remaining a member of the California Independent System Operator Corporation (Cal-ISO) when state law prevented PG&E's departure without authorization. The panel held that FERC's determination that PG&E was entitled to incentive adders for remaining in the Cal-ISO was arbitrary and capricious, because FERC did not reasonably interpret Order 679 as justifying summary grants of adders for remaining in a transmission organization. The panel explained that, because FERC's interpretation was unreasonable, FERC's grants of adders to PG&E were an unexplained departure from longstanding policy. Furthermore, FERC created a generic adder in violation of the order. View "CPUC V. FERC" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision rejecting challenges to the Forest Service's determination that EFR had a valid existing right to operate a uranium mine on land within a withdrawal area of public lands around Grand Canyon National Park that the Secretary of the Interior withdrew from new mining claims. The panel held that the Mineral Report was a major federal action under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4332, and that the district court correctly held that Center for Biological Diversity v. Salazar, 706 F.3d 1085 (9th Cir. 2013), not Pit River Tribe v. U.S. Forest Service, 469 F.3d 768 (9th Cir. 2006), governed this case; that action was complete when the plan was approved; resumed operation of Canyon Mine did not require any additional government action; and thus the EIS prepared in 1988 satisfied NEPA. The panel also held that the Mineral Report approved an "undertaking" under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA), 54 U.S.C. 306108; the Mineral Report did not permit, license, or approve resumed operations at Canyon Mine; and the original approval was the only "undertaking" requiring consultation under the NHPA. Finally, the environmental groups did not have prudential standing to challenge the Mineral Report. View "Havasupai Tribe v. Provencio" on Justia Law

by
The unconstitutional legislative veto embedded in section 204(c)(1) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), 43 U.S.C. 1714, is severable from the large-tract withdrawal authority delegated to the Secretary in that same subsection. Invalidating the legislative veto provision does not affect the Secretary's withdrawal authority. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision rejecting challenges to the decision of the Secretary to withdraw from new uranium mining claims, up to twenty years, over one million acres of land near Grand Canyon National Park. In this case, the panel held that the environmental impact statement (EIS) did take existing legal regimes into account but reasonably concluded that they were inadequate to meet the purposes of the withdrawal; the Establishment Clause challenge failed under Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612–13 (1971); and the panel rejected challenges under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4332, and the National Forest Management Act, 16 U.S.C. 1604(e). View "National Mining Ass'n v. Zinke" on Justia Law