On May 27, 2021, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) indicated that it would increase the timeline for making a decision on five pending applications for Natural Gas Act (NGA) Section 7 certificates of public convenience and necessity when it issued notices of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) to each of the project sponsors. Each of the applications concern pipeline expansion projects that were the subject of environmental assessments (EAs) performed by FERC staff. The notices state that the new EISs will tier off of the existing EAs and will be limited in scope to assisting FERC in its consideration of the subject projects’ contribution to climate change in the FERC decision-making process.
On May 19, 2021, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an order dismissing rehearing requests (Dismissal Order) of its February 18, 2021, Order Establishing Briefing in Algonquin Gas Transmission, LLC (Docket No. CP16-9-012) (Briefing Order). The Briefing Order had found that concerns raised regarding the operation of a compressor station that FERC had authorized to place into service on September 24, 2020, warranted further consideration. FERC set the matter for a paper hearing, with deadlines established for initial and reply briefs. The Briefing Order drew fierce criticism in dissents by Commissioners Mark Christie and James Danly on grounds that FERC was acting outside of its statutory authority and resulted in over 100 comments and briefs filed by a diverse group of pipeline industry members and advocates, environmental nongovernmental organizations and consumer groups, and former FERC commissioners as well as requests for rehearing by the affected pipeline and four individual trade associations representing pipeline operators, investors, and shippers.
On May 4, 2021, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) issued Order No. 871-B, an Order Limiting Authorizations to Proceed with Construction Activities. The order revises FERC regulations at 18 C.F.R. § 157.23(b) enacted in July 2020 following the issuance of Order No. 871.
The regulation now prohibits authorizations to proceed with construction for pipeline or liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal facilities from issuing if a timely request for rehearing of a certificate order has been filed specifically opposing project construction, operation, or need until (1) the request is no longer pending before FERC, (2) the record of the proceeding has been filed with the court of appeals, or (3) 90 days have passed after the date that the request for rehearing may be deemed to have been denied under the Natural Gas Act’s (NGA) rehearing provisions at 15 U.S.C. § 717r(a).
Yesterday, the U.S. Congress started a process that could repeal its first Trump-era regulation pursuant to the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Enacted in 1996, the CRA provides Congress an important oversight tool over federal agencies to rescind certain rules. Majority members in both the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced resolutions disapproving the Environmental Protection Agency’s September 2020 final rule on policy amendments to new source performance standards for the oil and natural gas sector. The 2020 rule, which amended 2012 and 2016 standards, rescinded methane-specific emissions limits and removed two segments (natural gas transmission and storage) that were subject to the prior standards. While EPA was directed by President Biden’s Executive Order 13990 to review the 2020 rule and propose a new rule by September 2021, members of Congress are seeking to accelerate this effort by using the CRA.
On March 22, 2021, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) for the first time issued an order that assessed whether greenhouse gas emissions related to a natural gas pipeline certificate project would significantly contribute to climate change. FERC purported to perform the assessment pursuant to its obligation under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to take a “hard look” at a project’s environmental impacts.
On March 10, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected a challenge to an opinion by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) allowing a South Texas liquified natural gas (LNG) pipeline project to proceed. Sierra Club, et al. v. U.S. Department of Interior, et al. involved a proposed LNG pipeline that would pass through Cameron, Willacy, Kenedy, and Kleburg counties in south Texas. (more…)
On February 18, 2021, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) reopened the comment period for its Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on the Certification of New Interstate Natural Gas Facilities. FERC applies its current policy, issued in 1999, to assess whether to issue interstate natural gas transportation facilities a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN), a foundational permit required for their construction and operation. FERC must abide with its obligations under the Natural Gas Act and National Environmental Policy Act when considering pipeline certificate applications. FERC initially issued the NOI in April 2018, seeking comment on whether, and if so how, it should revise its approach to evaluating CPCN applications. The docket has been pending for nearly three years.
On August 18, 2020, a U.S. district court judge for the District of New Mexico upheld the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) analysis of climate impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The case concerned BLM’s decision to authorize the lease of 68,000 acres of land in New Mexico for oil and gas development. (more…)
On June 30, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) ruled en banc 10-1 in Allegheny Defense Project v. FERC to invalidate the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) common practice of issuing tolling orders to extend the time for deciding rehearing requests under the Natural Gas Act (NGA) beyond the 30-day deadline set forth in the statute. The court found that a tolling order, in which FERC “grants rehearing” for the limited purpose of affording it additional time to act on a rehearing request, does not constitute “action” upon the rehearing request as required by the NGA. The decision reversed the approximately 50-year old D.C. Circuit precedent upholding the tolling order practice as permissible. The court derided the practice as an unauthorized way for FERC to stall for time while precluding parties aggrieved by FERC orders from seeking judicial review.