Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Brooks v. Commonwealth Edison Co.
Nine Illinois energy consumers sued their electricity provider, ComEd, and its parent, Exelon, on behalf of themselves and those similarly situated for damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) alleging injury from increased electricity rates. These rates increased, they allege, because ComEd bribed former Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan to shepherd three bills through the state’s legislature: the Energy Infrastructure and Modernization Act of 2011 (EIMA); 2013 amendments to that legislation; and the Future Energy Jobs Act of 2016. Although Illinois law still required public utilities to file rates with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), EIMA implemented statutorily prescribed, performance-based rate increases that limited ICC discretion in reviewing rates and authorized at least $2.6 billion in ComEd spending on smart meters and smart grid infrastructure, costs that were required to be passed on to customers. In 2016, FEJA provided $2.35 billion in funding for nuclear power plants operated, paid for through a new fee for utility customers, and allowed ComEd to charge ratepayers for all energy efficiency programs and for some expenses relating to employee incentive compensation, pensions, and other post-employment benefits.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Paying a state’s required filed utility rate is not a cognizable injury for a RICO damages claim. View "Brooks v. Commonwealth Edison Co." on Justia Law
Finite Resources, Ltd. v. DTE Methane Resources, LLC
Finite owns 90.9% of Orient #1, an abandoned Illinois coal mine; the other 9.1% belongs to Royal. In 2004, Keyrock's predecessor acquired an interest in Orient #1 to extract coal mine methane from its section of the property, drilled wells, and, in 2007, obtained a vacuum permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Finite discovered the pump’s use in 2018 after a test revealed that coal mine methane had been drained extensively from Orient #1. Finite unsuccessfully petitioned the Department for compulsory unitization of the parties’ properties, to require Keyrock to share its methane production with Finite.Finite sued, alleging conversion, trespass, accounting, and common law unitization, and sought to enjoin the use of a vacuum pump. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, finding that, under the rule of capture (gas that migrates is subject to recovery and possession by the holder of the gas estate on the property to which the gas migrates), the methane could not be owned until extracted regardless of whether extraction occurred by means of a vacuum pump. Finite’s claims hinged on ownership, so the rule of capture foreclosed Finite’s claims.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Absent illegality, the Department’s issuance of the permit suggests that the use of the vacuum pump to extract methane did not violate Finite’s correlative rights (imposing a duty on owners not to waste natural resources intentionally or negligently as to injure their neighbor).. View "Finite Resources, Ltd. v. DTE Methane Resources, LLC" on Justia Law
Driftless Area Land Conservancy v. Valcq
In 2019 the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin issued a permit authorizing two transmission companies and an electric cooperative to build and operate a $500 million, 100-mile power line. Environmental groups filed lawsuits in both federal and state courts, alleging that two of the three commissioners had disqualifying conflicts of interest and should have recused themselves.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the commissioners’ motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity. The commissioners were sued in their official capacities, so sovereign immunity blocks this suit in its entirety unless it falls within the Ex parte Young exception, which authorizes a federal suit against state officials for the purpose of obtaining prospective relief against an ongoing violation of federal law. The environmental groups seek an order enjoining the permit’s enforcement, prospective relief; they contend that the violation is ongoing as long as the permit remains in force and effect and the commissioners have the power to enforce, modify, or rescind it. Ex parte Young applies.The court, sua sponte, remanded with instructions to stay the case pending resolution of the state proceedings. Both cases raise materially identical due-process recusal claims. The case implicates serious state interests regarding the operation of Wisconsin administrative law and judicial review. Litigating the same questions in both court systems is duplicative and wasteful; comity and the sound administration of judicial resources warrant abstention. View "Driftless Area Land Conservancy v. Valcq" on Justia Law
U.S. Venture, Inc. v. United States
Gasoline is subject to an excise tax. The combined fuel excise taxes account for more than 80% of the annual revenue collected for the Highway Trust Fund. The 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act. introduced new credits that fuel producers could use to offset their fuel excise taxes, including one for using “alternative fuels” to create “alternative fuel mixtures” (AFM credit), 26 U.S.C. 6426(e).U.S. Venture buys fuel from various suppliers and combines it with different additives before selling the finished product to retailers. Since 2012 U.S. Venture has commonly added butane to the gasoline it produces and sells. Butane is a type of gas, made from both natural gas and petroleum. It has long been considered a fuel additive, with suppliers adding it to gasoline since at least the 1960s.In 2017. U.S. Venture first sought an AFM tax credit for producing and selling fuel that contained a mixture of gasoline and butane. The IRS rejected its position. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed. There is nothing alternative about gasoline containing a butane additive, as indicated by a combination of statutory provisions defining the scope of the alternative fuel mixture tax credit. View "U.S. Venture, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law
West v. Charter Communications, Inc.
In 1938, West’s predecessor granted Louisville Gas & Electric’s predecessor a perpetual easement permitting a 248-foot-tall tower carrying high-voltage electric lines. In 1990, Louisville sought permission to allow Charter Communication install on the towers a fiber-optic cable that carries communications (telephone service, cable TV service, and internet data); West refused. In 2000 Louisville concluded that the existing easement allows the installation of wires that carry photons (fiber-optic cables) along with the wires that carry electrons. West disagreed and filed suit, seeking compensation.The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the use that Louisville and Charter have jointly made of the easement is permissible under Indiana law. The court cited 47 U.S.C. 541(a)(2), part of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, which provides: Any franchise shall be construed to authorize the construction of a cable system over public rights-of-way, and through easements, which is within the area to be served by the cable system and which have been dedicated for compatible uses, except that in using such easements the cable operator shall ensure…. The court examined the language of the easement and stated: “At least the air rights have been “dedicated” to transmission, and a telecom cable is “compatible” with electric transmission. Both photons and electrons are in the electromagnetic spectrum.” View "West v. Charter Communications, Inc." on Justia Law
Exelon Corp. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue
In 1999, after deregulation of the energy industry in Illinois, Exelon sold its fossil-fuel power plants to use the proceeds on its nuclear plants and infrastructure. The sales yielded $4.8 billion, $2 billion more than expected. Exelon attempted to defer tax liability on the gains by executing “like-kind exchanges,” 26 U.S.C. 1031(a)(1). Exelon identified its Collins Plant, to be sold for $930 million, with $823 of taxable gain, and its Powerton Plant, to be sold for $870 million ($683 million in taxable gain) for exchanges. Exelon identified as investment candidates a Texas coal-fired plant to replace Collins and Georgia coal-fired plants to replace Powerton. In “sale-and-leaseback” transactions, Exelon leased an out-of-state power plant from a tax-exempt entity for a period longer than the plant’s estimated useful life, then immediately leased the plant back to that entity for a shorter sublease term. and provided to the tax-exempt entity a multi-million-dollar accommodation fee with a fully-funded purchase option to terminate Exelon’s residual interest after the sublease. Exelon asserted that it had acquired a genuine ownership interest in the plants, qualifying them as like-kind exchanges.The Commissioner disallowed the benefits claimed by Exelon, characterizing the transactions as a variant of the traditional sale-in-lease-out (SILO) tax shelters, widely invalidated as abusive tax shelters. The tax court and Seventh Circuit affirmed, applying the substance over form doctrine to conclude that the Exelon transactions failed to transfer to Exelon a genuine ownership interest in the out-of-state plants. In substance Exelon’s transactions resemble loans to the tax-exempt entities. View "Exelon Corp. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law
Village of Old Mill Creek v. Star
Regional transmission organizations manage the interstate grid for electricity, conduct auctions through which many large generators of electricity sell most or all of their power, and are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Illinois subsidizes nuclear generation facilities by granting “zero emission credits,” which generators that use coal or gas to produce power must purchase from the recipients at a price set by the state. Electricity producers and municipalities sued, contending that the price‐adjustment aspect of the system is preempted by the Federal Power Act because it impinges on the FERC’s regulatory authority. They acknowledge that a state may levy a tax on carbon emissions; tax the assets and incomes of power producers; tax revenues to subsidize generators; or create a cap‐and‐trade system requiring every firm that emits carbon to buy credits from firms that emit less carbon. They argued that the zero‐emission‐credit system indirectly regulates the auction by using average auction prices as a component in a formula that affects the credits' cost. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Illinois has not engaged in discrimination beyond that required to regulate within its borders. All Illinois carbon‐emitting plants need to buy credits. The subsidy’s recipients are in Illinois. The price effect of the statute is felt wherever the power is used. All power (from inside and outside Illinois) goes for the same price in an interstate auction. The cross‐subsidy among producers may injure investors in carbon‐ releasing plants, but only plants in Illinois. View "Village of Old Mill Creek v. Star" on Justia Law