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.
On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States decided United States Forest Service et al. v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association et al. (Cowpasture). In a 7-2 decision, the court authorized the U.S. Forest Service (Forest Service) to reinstate a special use permit under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (Leasing Act) to allow the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) to cross a portion of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (the Trail) that traverses the George Washington National Forest in West Virginia (GW Forest). The decision removes a significant obstacle to the ACP, but other legal roadblocks remain.
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…)
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.
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.
On Tuesday, October 11, 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) revealed a pipeline civil penalty framework on its website. PHMSA will allow a respondent in an enforcement case to request a proposed civil penalty calculation related to its case.
PHMSA’s current caps for administrative civil penalties occurring on or after August 1, 2016, are $205,638 per day and $2,056,380 for a related series of violations. PHMSA states that its penalties may exceed the guideline amounts to “serve as a strong deterrence, driving down incident risk.”
PHMSA’s guidelines provide the following “assessment considerations” for determining penalty amounts: nature; circumstances; gravity; culpability; history of prior offenses; good faith; and other matters as justice may require.