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A public utility filed a condemnation action seeking the land use rights necessary to construct a natural gas storage facility in an underground formation of porous rock. The utility held some rights already by assignment from an oil and gas lessee. The superior court held that because of the oil and gas lease, the utility owned the rights to whatever producible gas remained in the underground formation and did not have to compensate the landowner for its use of the gas to help pressurize the storage facility. The court held a bench trial to determine the value of the storage space. The landowner appealed the resulting compensation award, arguing it retained ownership of the producible gas in place because the oil and gas lease authorized only production, not storage. It also argued it had the right to compensation for gas that was discovered after the date of taking. The landowner also challenged several findings related to the court’s valuation of the storage rights: that the proper basis of valuation was the storage facility’s maximum physical capacity rather than the capacity allowed by its permits; that the valuation should not have included buffer area at the same rate as area used for storage; and that an expert’s valuation methodology, which the superior court accepted, was flawed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err in ruling that the landowner’s only rights in the gas were reversionary rights that were unaffected by the utility’s non-consumptive use of the gas during the pendency of the lease. Furthermore, the Court concluded the trial court did not clearly err with regard to findings about valuation. View "Kenai Landing, Inc. v Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage, et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court awarding specific performance to Pathfinder Oil & Gas, Inc., which claimed a twenty-five percent working interest in certain mineral leases under a letter agreement that Great Western Drilling Ltd. claimed was unenforceable, holding that Pathfinder was entitled to specific performance. On the day before trial, the parties stipules that only certain issues would be submitted to the jury and that favorable jury findings would entitle Pathfinder to specific performance instead of money damages. The jury charge included only the specifically enumerated jury issues, and the jury answered those issues in favor of Pathfinder. The trial court awarded specific performance as provided by the parties' agreement. The court of appeals reversed and rendered a take-nothing judgment, holding that specific performance was unavailable without a jury finding that Pathfinder was "ready, willing, and able" to perform its obligations under the contract. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, through the stipulation, Great Western waived the right to insist on any other fact findings that might otherwise have been required to entitle Pathfinder to specific performance. View "Pathfinder Oil & Gas, Inc. v. Great Western Drilling, Ltd." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court affirming the conclusions of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that CPS Energy violated both Tex. Util. Code 54.204(c)'s uniform-charge requirement and section 54.204(b)'s prohibition of discrimination, holding that the PUC could reasonably have concluded, as it did, that CPS Energy violated the plain terms of section 54.204(b). The PUC concluded that a utility that invoices different telecommunications providers a uniform rate nevertheless violates section 54.204(b) if it fails to take timely action to ensure that all pole attachers actually pay the uniform rate it invoices. The court of appeals reversed, holding that if a telecommunications provider does not pay the rate the utility uniformly charges, any discriminatory effect is the telecommunication provider's fault, not the utility's. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the PUC's finding that CPS Energy failed to make any serious or meaningful effort to collect from AT&T Texas was supported by substantial evidence, and the effect on Time Warner Cable was clearly discriminatory. View "Time Warner Cable Texas LLC v. CPS Energy" 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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The Supreme Court vacated the decision and order of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving an amended power purchase agreement (PPA) between Hawai'i Electric Light Company, Inc. (HELCO) and Hu Honua Bioenergy, LLC, pursuant to which Hu Honua would construct and operate a biomass-field energy production facility and HELCO would purchase energy from the facility, holding that the PUC failed explicitly to consider greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in determining whether to approve the amended PPA and denied Life of the Land due process during the underlying proceedings. LOL, an environmental nonprofit organization, sought to intervene as a party in the PUC's proceeding in order to address the environmental impacts of the proposed facility. The PUC granted LOL limited participation in the proceeding and then approved the amended PPA. The Supreme Court vacated the PUC's order, holding (1) this Court has jurisdiction to consider LOL's appeal; (2) the PUC erred by failing explicitly to consider the reduction of GHG emissions in approving the amended PPA, as required by statute; and (3) the PUC denied LOL due process to protect its interest in a clean and healthful environment by restricting its participation in the proceeding. View "In re Application of Hawai'i Electric Light Co." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals held that the Public Service Law, in authorizing the Public Service Commission (PSC) to set the conditions under which public utilities will transport consumer-owned electricity and gas, authorized the PSC to issue an order that conditioned access to public utility infrastructure by energy service companies (ESCOs) upon ESCOs capping their prices in a certain manner. In 2016, the PSC issued the order challenged in this case that conditioned ESCOs' access to public utility infrastructure upon ESCOs capping their prices such that, on an annual basis, they charge no more for electricity than is charged by public utilities unless thirty percent of the energy is derived from renewable sources. Petitioners - ESCOs and their representative trade associations - commenced these two separate proceedings - combined N.Y. C.P.L.R. 78 proceedings and actions for declaratory judgment - seeking a declaration that the order was void and a a permanent injunction enjoin the PSC from enforcing the order. Supreme Court granted the petitions to the extent of vacating the challenged provisions of the order. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed. The Court of Appeals modified the Appellate Division's orders, holding that the PSC did not exceed its statutory authority or violate Petitioners' constitutional rights in issuing the order. View "National Energy Marketers Ass'n v New York State Public Service Commission" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the Bureau of Land Management violated the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in granting more than 300 applications for permits to drill horizontal, multi-stage hydraulically fracked wells in the Mancos Shale area of the San Juan Basin in northeastern New Mexico. Appellants, four environmental advocacy groups) sued the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Secretary of the BLM, alleging that the BLM authorized the drilling without fully considering its indirect and cumulative impacts on the environment or on historic properties. The district court denied Appellants a preliminary injunction, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed that decision in 2016. After merits briefing, the district court concluded that the BLM had not violated either NHPA or NEPA and dismissed Appellants’ claims with prejudice. Appellants appealed, and this time, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. The Tenth Circuit determined that, as to five EAs, Appellants have demonstrated that the BLM needed to, but did not, consider the cumulative impacts of water resources associated with 3,960 reasonably foreseeable horizontal Mancos Shale wells. The BLM’s issuance of FONSIs and approval of APDs associated with these EAs was therefore arbitrary and capricious and violated NEPA. The matter was remanded for the district court to vacate the FONSIs and APDs associated with those five environmental analyses; the Tenth Circuit affirmed as to all other issues. View "Dine Citizens v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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Defendant Chaparral Energy, L.L.C. (Chaparral) operated approximately 2,500 oil and gas wells in Oklahoma. Plaintiffs Naylor Farms, Inc. and Harrel’s, L.L.C. (collectively, Naylor Farms) had royalty interests in some of those wells. According to Naylor Farms, Chaparral systematically underpaid Naylor Farms and other similarly situated royalty owners by improperly deducting from their royalty payments certain gas-treatment costs that Naylor Farms contended Chaparral was required to shoulder under Oklahoma law. Naylor Farms brought a putative class-action lawsuit against Chaparral and moved to certify the class under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The district court granted Naylor Farms’ motion to certify, and Chaparral appealed the district court’s certification order. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded Chaparral failed to demonstrate the district court’s decision to certify the class fell outside “the bounds of rationally available choices given the facts and law involved in the matter at hand.” View "Naylor Farms v. Chaparral Energy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals ruling that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality does not have the discretion to deny an ad valorem tax exemption for heat recovery steam generators (HRSGs), devices the Legislature considers "pollution control property," holding that the Legislature did not exceed its constitutional authority in exempting pollution control property from taxation. Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, Inc. filed for an exemption seeking a positive use determination for the HRSG used in two of its facilities. The Commission's Executive Director issued negative use determinations for the applications on the grounds that HRSGs are not eligible for a positive use determination. The Commission eventually affirmed the determinations as to both facilities. The trial court affirmed. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) under Texas Tax Code 11.31, property that qualifies as pollution control property, is entitled to a tax exemption, and HRSGs qualify, at least in part, as pollution control property; and (2) thus, assuming the applicant otherwise complies with the statute's requirements, the Executive Director may not issue a negative use determination for HRSGs. View "Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, Inc. v. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the district court's judgment affirming the negative use determinations issued by the Commission on Environmental Quality as to Respondents' applications for tax exemptions for heat recovery steam generators (HRSGs), holding that Texas Tax Code 11.31 does not give the Commission and its Executive Director discretion to deny an ad valorem tax exemption for HRSGs. In Brazos Electric Power Cooperative v. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, __ S.W.3d __ (Tex. 2019), also issued today, the Supreme Court held that the Legislature has deemed HRSGs to qualify at least in part as "pollution control property" entitled to an exemption. The Court further held in Brazos Electric that the Commission abused its discretion by issuing negative use determinations for two exemption applications involving HRSGs when the applications complied with relevant statutory requirements. In the instant case, the Commission issued negative use determinations for Petitioners' applications for tax exemptions for HRSGs. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals correctly held that the Commission may not issue negative use determinations for HRSGs. View "Texas Commission on Environmental Quality v. Brazos Valley Energy, LLC" on Justia Law