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 The 2020 rule, which amended 2012 and 2016 standards, rescinded methane-specific emissions limits and removed two segments (natural gas transmission and storage) that were subject to the prior standards.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.
Democrats’ regaining the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives assures an interesting upcoming two years of policy debates for the energy industry. Expect House Democrats to push initiatives on clean energy and address the effects of climate change through hearings or possible legislation, along with further scrutiny on the White House, Cabinet secretaries and federal agencies. (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…)
This week’s enforcement update covers:
- CFTC enters into non-prosecution agreements with former Citigroup Global Markets Inc. traders in spoofing case;
- CFTC orders $5.2 million in civil penalties for wash sales designed to generate exchange rebate fees;
- FERC hosts technical conference on developments in natural gas index liquidity and transparency;
- Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee releases new energy bill;
- President Trump announces intent to nominate Richard Glick as FERC Commissioner;
- FERC Enforcement and City Power file status report on settlement; and
- Judge grants Kraft Foods motion to compel discovery from the CFTC.