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”).
This update covers:
- FERC rescinds policy on Notices of Alleged Violations.
- Judge denies motion for new trial for first trader convicted of spoofing.
- CFTC charges former natural gas trader with fraudulently mismarking trades.
- CFTC’s Division of Enforcement issues first Public Enforcement Manual.
- FERC approves settlement with Dominion Energy.
- DOJ publishes new guidance on evaluating corporate compliance programs.
- CFTC staff issues research report on impact of automated orders in futures markets.
- CFTC settles case against Kraft Heinz and Mondelez International.
- Powhatan and FERC file appellate briefs on statute of limitations.
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 March 21, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) issued a notice of inquiry (“NOI”) in which the Commission addresses possible improvements to its electric transmission incentives policy. The NOI requests stakeholder comment on a wide range of issues related to the Commission’s current transmission incentives policies. FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said, “as I announced in November, I believe these policies are overdue for a fresh look with input from all stakeholders, not just those that happen to be parties to a pending complaint proceeding.” The NOI was published in the Federal Register on March 28, 2019. Comments on the NOI are due on June 25, 2019 and Reply Comments are due on July 25, 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…)
In our first enforcement update for 2019, we cover a range of issues (including some news from the end of 2018):
- FERC opens investigations into rates charged by three interstate natural gas companies;
- Powhatan and Chen file opening appellate brief;
- Judge suspends CFTC case against Kraft because of the partial government shutdown;
- FERC increases maximum civil penalties for violations;
- FERC approves settlement between FERC Enforcement and Algonquin;
- Judge rules that FERC action against Silkman/CES is not time-barred by statute of limitations; and
- Judge finds CFTC fails to meet burden on manipulation claims against DRW and Wilson.
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…)
On November 15, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a rulemaking to revise its regulations relating to mergers or consolidations by a public utility. See Implementation of Amended Section 203(a)(1)(B) of the Federal Power Act, 165 FERC ¶ 61,091 (2018). These regulations would implement a law signed on September 28, 2018 establishing a $10 million threshold on transactions that will be subject to FERC’s review and authorization under section 203(a)(1)(B) of the Federal Power Act (FPA). Previously, there was no dollar value threshold for FERC review of public utility “merge or consolidate” transactions under FPA section 203(a)(1)(B). See 16 U.S.C. § 824b(a)(1)(B). (more…)