As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, Sidley is helping clients navigate the potential consequences to energy markets and attendant legal risks. The following frequently asked questions address actions by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on April 2, 2020 in response to the current market conditions. This document updates energy regulatory FAQs published by Sidley on March 20, 2020.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) announced yesterday they are taking steps to ensure that operators of the bulk electric system can focus their resources on keeping people safe and the lights on during this unprecedented public health emergency.
On June 4, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”) offered non-binding advice to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) on how it should perform environmental reviews of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions when it considers new natural gas pipeline projects. While the opinion in Birckhead v. FERC ultimately upheld FERC’s order permitting a new natural gas compressor station near Nashville, Tennessee, the court devoted several pages of dicta on what upstream and downstream GHG emissions data FERC should be gathering to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”).
On March 21, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) initiated an Inquiry Regarding the Commission’s Policy for Determining Return on Equity (“ROE”) that was published in the Federal Register on March 28, 2019. FERC is seeking comments on this Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) in eight general areas, including the role its base ROE plays in investment decision-making, and whether FERC should reevaluate how it uses the discounted cash flow (“DCF”) methodology to set ROEs for jurisdictional rates. The DCF methodology has guided cost-of-service ratemaking at FERC since the 1980s. It is used to ascertain an investor’s required return for investing in a firm, and is applied using a proxy group of firms that face similar risks to the entity whose ROE is being determined, which defines a “zone of reasonableness” for the ROE. The use of a proxy group is intended to satisfy the “Hope” and “Bluefield” standards (named for a pair of 20th Century U.S. Supreme Court cases) that an ROE is commensurate with returns on investments in other enterprises having corresponding risks to assure confidence in the financial integrity of the enterprise to allow it to maintain its credit and attract capital. Comments on the NOI are due on June 26, 2019 and Reply Comments are due on July 26, 2019.
On February 21, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued Trailblazer Pipeline Company LLC (“Trailblazer”), FERC’s first order addressing how FERC applies its Revised Income Tax Allowance Policy Statement, as further revised on rehearing (collectively “Revised Policy Statement”), to a pipeline organized as a pass-through partnership that is not a master limited partnership (“MLP”) in a Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) section 4 rate case proceeding. FERC issued the Revised Policy Statement in response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s (“D.C. Circuit”) decision in United Airlines, Inc. v. FERC (“United Airlines”), which found that FERC could not permit a specific MLP pipeline to recover an income tax allowance in its rates without further explaining why this did not result in the MLP’s investors “double recovering” their income tax costs, based on a concern that the investors’ pre-tax return on equity (“ROE”) also provided such compensation when calculated using the discounted cash flow (“DCF”) methodology. United Airlines did not consider other types of pass-through entities, such as non-publicly traded partnerships, or alternative methodologies to calculate ROE and the Revised Policy Statement did not address them directly. (more…)
1 – Make-up of FERC Commissioners – FERC’s leadership already was uncertain heading into 2019 before the tragic passing of Commissioner and former Chairman Kevin McIntyre on January 3, 2019. Prior to his passing, the Commission achieved a full complement of five commissioners in December 2018, following the confirmation of Bernard McNamee who filled a spot made vacant by the August 2018 resignation of former Commissioner Robert Powelson. Commissioner McNamee is facing calls to recuse himself from certain FERC electric generation proceedings given positions he took on grid resiliency in his prior position at the Department of Energy, and he is certain to be scrutinized by environmental groups for positions he is anticipated to take on pipeline matters as a FERC commissioner. (more…)
In Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Supreme Court held 7-2 that Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) administrative law judges (“ALJs”) are “officers of the United States” subject to the Constitution’s appointments clause, rather than employees. The June 21, 2018 opinion for the Court was by Justice Kagan, and has implications for ALJs at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”). (more…)
On Jan. 12, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued data requests to four interstate pipelines that are proposing incremental recourse rates in pending Natural Gas Act (NGA) Section 7 certificate applications.1 This action was significant because it appears to be FERC’s first step toward responding to tax law changes in the Law to Provide for Reconciliation Pursuant to Titles II and V of the Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2018, also known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (2017 Tax Act).
FERC permits pipelines and public utilities to recover their actual or potential tax expenses in their regulated rates. The 2017 Tax Act reduces the corporate tax rate to 21 percent and allows certain investments to receive bonus depreciation treatment. FERC asked each pipeline to 1) explain how the 2017 Tax Act impacts its proposed project cost of service and the resulting initial recourse rate proposal; 2) provide an adjusted cost of service and recalculated initial incremental recourse rates; and 3) provide all supporting work papers and formulas.2 (more…)
In a 2-1 decision that issued today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) in Sierra Club et. al v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Sierra Club) vacated and remanded a Natural Gas Act (NGA) Section 7 certificate of public convenience and necessity granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to the Southeast Market Pipelines Project (Project) in 2016. The Project comprises three natural gas pipelines currently under construction in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida that, once built, will transport over 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day over 500 miles to feed new and existing natural gas-fired electric plants in Florida and to serve the growing natural gas demand of Florida utility customers. (more…)
On July 19, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a pair of bills aimed at reforming natural gas and oil pipeline permitting, and granting additional authority to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”). Both bills passed on largely party-line votes. The two bills are H.R. 2883, Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act, and H.R. 2910, Promoting Interagency Coordination for Review of Natural Gas Pipelines Act. H.R. 2883, removes the current requirement that gas and oil pipelines, as well as electric transmission projects, obtain a Presidential Permit to cross an international border. Instead, pipelines would obtain a certificate of crossing from FERC and transmission projects would obtain such a certificate from the Department of Energy. If enacted into law, this change would mark a significant change for oil pipeline projects. FERC currently has no authority over any aspect of interstate oil pipeline siting. Currently, all siting decisions not on federal lands are handled at the state level, with international border crossings overseen by the State Department through the presidential permit process. FERC does, however, oversee the siting of interstate natural gas pipelines, including Presidential Permits for international border crossings, under current law.