Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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The 1985 “Manning Lease” granted the lessee rights to oil and gas on an approximately 100-acre tract of land in Bowling Green that is adjacent to a quarry. There is a long-expired one-year term, followed by a second term that conditions the maintenance of the leasehold interest on the production of oil or gas by the lessee. Bluegrass now owns the property. Believing that lessees were producing an insufficient quantity of oil to justify maintaining the lease, Bluegrass purported to terminate the lease and sought a declaration that the lease had terminated by its own terms while asserting several other related claims.The district court found that Bluegrass’s termination of the lease was improper and granted the lessees summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded. There is a factual dispute regarding whether the lease terminated by its own terms. The trier of fact must determine if the lessee has produced oil in paying quantities after considering all the evidence. There is a material factual dispute about whether the lessee ceased producing oil for a period of time, and, if so, whether that period of time was unreasonable. View "Bluegrass Materials Co., LLC v. Freeman" on Justia Law

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Downstream fuel producers pay an excise tax, 26 U.S.C. 4081(a)(1)(A). Revenues from the tax fund the Highway Trust Fund. In 2004, Congress sought to incentivize renewable fuels without undermining highway funding. Under the American Jobs Creation Act, a fuel producer can earn the “Mixture Credit” by mixing alcohol or biodiesel into its products. The Mixture Credit applies “against the [excise] tax imposed by section 4081,” section 6426(a)(1). Under section 6427(e), a producer can also receive the Mixture Credit as direct, nontaxable payments, to the extent the Mixture Credit exceeds the excise tax liability. The Highway Revenue Act now appropriates the full amount of a producer’s section 4081 excise tax to the Highway Trust Fund “without reduction for credits under section 6426,” section 9503(b)(1).In 2010-2011, Delek claimed $64 million in Mixture Credits and subtracted that amount from its cost of goods sold, increasing Delek’s gross income and its income tax burden. In 2015, Delek filed a refund claim (more than $16 million), arguing that its Mixture Credits were “payments” that could only satisfy, but not reduce, the excise tax amount, so that subtracting the Mixture Credit from its cost of goods sold was a mistake. The IRS denied the claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in the government’s favor, rejecting Delek’s “novel theory: The credit is a “payment” that satisfies, but does not reduce, its excise tax liability.” View "Delek US Holdings, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Ammex operates a duty-free gas station in Wayne County, Michigan, near the bridge to Canada, but positioned “beyond the exit point” for domestic commerce established by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In 2012, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) sought to enforce an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule requiring Wayne County gas stations to dispense low-pressure gasoline in the summer. MDARD, in conjunction with the EPA, implemented this rule to bring Southeast Michigan’s ozone levels into compliance with the Clean Air Act.Because of its unique location and certain sales privileges granted to it by U.S. customs law, Ammex resisted efforts to apply the rule to its gasoline sales. In 2019, the Sixth Circuit determined that MDARD was enforcing federal regulatory law, and was not in violation of the Supremacy Clause or dormant Foreign Commerce Clause. Ammex then argued that the environmental rule, properly construed, did not apply to Ammex and that the customs statute giving Ammex the right to sell duty-free goods supersedes the environmental regulation and renders it unenforceable against Ammex. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of those claims. the Summer Fuel Law unambiguously applies to Ammex and does not impact Ammex’s ability to sell gas duty-free. View "Ammex, Inc. v. Michigan Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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The 1954 Atomic Energy Act allowed private construction, ownership, and operation of commercial nuclear power reactors for energy production. The 1957 Price-Anderson Act created a system of private insurance, government indemnification, and limited liability for federal licensees, 42 U.S.C. 2012(i). In 1988, in response to the Three Mile Island accident, federal district courts were given original and removal jurisdiction over both “extraordinary nuclear occurrences” and any public liability action arising out of or resulting from a nuclear incident; any suit asserting public liability was deemed to arise under 42 U.S.C. 2210, with the substantive rules for decision derived from state law, unless inconsistent with section 2210.The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant enriched uranium for the nuclear weapons program and later to fuel commercial nuclear reactors. Plaintiffs lived near the plant, and claim that the plant was portrayed as safe while it discharged radioactive material that caused (and continues to cause) them harm.Plaintiffs, seeking to represent a class, filed suit in state court asserting claims under Ohio law. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the removal of the case on the grounds that the complaint, although it did not assert a federal claim, nonetheless raised a federal question under the Price-Anderson Act, and affirmed the subsequent dismissal. The Act preempted plaintiffs’ state law claims and the plaintiffs did not assert a claim under the Act but asserted that their “claims do not fall within the scope of the Price-Anderson Act.” View "Matthews v. Centrus Energy Corp." on Justia Law

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FES distributes electricity, buying it from its fossil-fuel and nuclear electricity-generating subsidiaries. FES and a subsidiary filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court enjoined the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) from interfering with its plan to reject certain electricity-purchase contracts that FERC had previously approved under the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 791a or the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act, 16 U.S.C. 2601, applying the ordinary business-judgment rule and finding that the contracts were financially burdensome to FES. The counterparties were rendered unsecured creditors to the bankruptcy estate. The Sixth Circuit agreed that the bankruptcy court has jurisdiction to decide whether FES may reject the contracts, but held that the injunction was overly broad (beyond its jurisdiction) and that its standard for deciding rejection was too limited. The public necessity of available and functional bankruptcy relief is generally superior to the necessity of FERC’s having complete or exclusive authority to regulate energy contracts and markets. The bankruptcy court exceeded its authority by enjoining FERC from “initiating or continuing any proceeding” or “interfer[ing] with [its] exclusive jurisdiction,” given that it did not have exclusive jurisdiction. On remand, the bankruptcy court must reconsider and decide the impact of the rejection of these contracts on the public interest—including the consequential impact on consumers and any tangential contract provisions concerning such things as decommissioning, environmental management, and future pension obligations—to ensure that the “equities balance in favor of rejecting the contracts.” View "In re: FirstEnergy Solutions Corp." on Justia Law

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The surface and mineral estates of “Tract 46” in Pike County, Kentucky have been severed for a century. Pike and Johnson own the surface estate as tenants in common. Pike also owns the entirety of the coal below and wants to mine. In 2013, Pike granted its affiliate a right to enter the land and commence surface mining. Despite Johnson’s protestations, Kentucky granted a surface mining permit. Mining commenced in April 2014. In 2014, as the result of a federal lawsuit, the Secretary of the Interior determined that the permit violated the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), 30 U.S.C. 1250. The deficiencies in the original permit were remedied; Kentucky issued an amended permit the same year. The Secretary then confirmed that the permit complied with federal law. Johnson sued again. An ALJ, the district court, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed, first finding that Johnson exhausted its administrative remedies to the extent required by SMCRA. The ALJ’s application of Kentucky co-tenancy law, instead of the state’s rules of construction for vague severance deeds, to uphold the issuance of Elkhorn’s permit and the Secretary’s termination of the cessation order was not arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law. View "M.L. Johnson Family Properties, LLC v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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Kentucky Utilities (KU) burns coal to produce energy, then stores the leftover coal ash in two man-made ponds. Environmental groups contend that the chemicals in the coal ash are contaminating the surrounding groundwater, which in turn contaminates a nearby lake, in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251(a), and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. 6902(a). The Sixth Circuit affirmed, in part, the dismissal of their suit. The CWA does not extend liability to pollution that reaches surface waters via groundwater. A “point source,” of pollution under the CWA is a “discernible, confined and discrete conveyance.” Groundwater is not a point source. RCRA does, however govern this conduct, and the plaintiffs have met the statutory rigors needed to bring such a claim. They have alleged (and supported) an imminent and substantial threat to the environment; they have provided the EPA and Kentucky ninety days to respond to those allegations, and neither the EPA nor Kentucky has filed one of the three types of actions that would preclude the citizen groups from proceeding with their federal lawsuit, so the district court had jurisdiction. View "Kentucky Waterways Alliance v. Kentucky Utilities Co." on Justia Law

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Raymond, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, was born in 1947 and was a long-term resident of Middlesboro, Kentucky. He worked in the coal-mining industry for over 20 years and developed severe respiratory issues. Raymond, a non-smoker, sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901, but died while his claim was pending. Raymond’s claim was consolidated with a claim for survivor’s benefits submitted by his widow, Joanna. The ALJ awarded benefits to Joanna, on both Raymond’s behalf, and as his surviving spouse. The Benefits Review Board affirmed. Zurich, the insurer of Straight Creek Coal, sought review. The Sixth Circuit denied Zurich’s petition, upholding the ALJ’s conclusions that Zurich failed to rebut the presumption of timeliness, that Raymond had worked for at least 15 years in qualifying employment, and that Raymond had a total respiratory disability. Raymond worked only in surface mines or coal-preparation plants during his career; the ALJ properly relied on 20 C.F.R. 718.305(b)(2) and determined whether Raymond’s mining employment was “substantially similar” to underground mining. View "Zurich American Insurance Group v. Duncan" on Justia Law

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MISO, a nonprofit association of utilities, manages electrical transmission facilities for its members. Beginning in 2006, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved changes to MISO’s Tariff that enabled it to authorize network expansion projects and divide the costs among the member utilities. Duke and American own Ohio and Kentucky utilities. In July 2009, American gave notice that it planned to withdraw from MISO. Duke followed suit in May 2010. Under the Tariff, a utility cannot withdraw from MISO any earlier than the last day of the year following the year it gives notice. Two months after Duke announced its intention to withdraw, MISO proposed a new category of more expensive expansion projects. FERC approved this revision to the Tariff. In August 2010, MISO authorized the first Multi-Value Project. In December 2011, weeks before Duke’s scheduled departure, MISO approved 16 projects, to cost billions of dollars. MISO proposed amending the Tariff, so that ex-members could be charged for the costs of Multi-Value Projects approved before their departure. FERC approved that revision prospectively, holding that the revision imposed new obligations on withdrawing members and could not apply to Duke and American to charge them for the Multi-Value Projects. Other MISO Transmission Owners appealed, claiming that FERC departed from the reasoning of its prior orders. The Sixth Circuit denied a petition for review, stating that there is no presumption that costs for the Multi-Value Projects should be allocated up front. View "MISO Transmission Owners v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law