On November 19, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Office of Enforcement (Enforcement) issued the 2020 Annual Report on Enforcement (Report). The Report informs the public and the regulated community of Enforcement’s fiscal year activities occurring October 1, 2019, through September 30, 2020 (FY 2020). Notably, the Report does not include any enforcement actions resulting in civil penalties involving pipeline companies. As stated in the Report, the unprecedented pandemic allowed Enforcement to make several compliance-related accommodations, including extending deadlines, suspending new audits, and postponing the contacts it makes in connection with surveillance inquiries. It is expected that, in a post-COVID-19-era and with a new administration, FERC’s enforcement approach may be more active in the coming years.
As we reported in an earlier posting, on June 4, 2020, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (“AGO”) filed a petition, which requested the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (“DPU”) to open an investigation into potential changes to local natural gas distribution company (“LDCs”) operations to support the Commonwealth’s legislatively mandated greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emission limit reductions (the “Petition”). Specifically, the AGO’s Petition seeks to evaluate the industry, regulatory and policy adjustments that are requisite to meet the state GHG limits, and to “determine what near and long-term adjustments are necessary to maintain a safe and reliable gas distribution system and protect consumer interests as the Commonwealth transitions” to carbon neutrality by 2050.
On July 16, 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published its highly anticipated final rule to improve its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. The update, which largely mirrors the proposed rule, is the first comprehensive amendment to the regulations since their original publication in 1978. The final rule is designed to streamline the NEPA review process, clarify important NEPA concepts, and codify key guidance and case law.
On July 6, the US District Court for the District of Columbia found that the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) must shut down while the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) prepares an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
On June 4, 2020, the Massachusetts Attorney General (AG) filed a Petition which requested the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to open an investigation into the potential changes to support the Commonwealth’s legislatively mandated greenhouse gas (GHG) emission limit reductions (the Petition). Specifically, the AG’s Petition seeks to evaluate the industry, regulatory and policy adjustments necessary to meet the state GHG limits, and to “determine what near and long-term adjustments are necessary to maintain a safe and reliable gas distribution system and protect consumer interests as the Commonwealth transitions” to carbon neutrality by 2050.
On June 22, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“Commission”) issued an Order on Petition for Declaratory Order finding that it has concurrent jurisdiction with bankruptcy courts to review and address the disposition of Commission-jurisdictional natural gas transportation agreements sought to be rejected through bankruptcy. Specifically, the Commission found that, “Where a party to a Commission-jurisdictional agreement under the [Natural Gas Act] seeks to reject the agreement in bankruptcy, that party must obtain approval from both the Commission and the bankruptcy court to modify the filed rate and reject the contract, respectively.” This is the first time the Commission has made such a finding with regard to jurisdictional agreements pursuant to the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) and it did so in a well-supported, clear and convincing way.
On May 30, 2020, for the first time in nine years, a manned spacecraft launched from American soil and ultimately docked at the International Space Station, just under a day later. This launch, which marks a significant step in the development of reusable rocket technology, will undoubtedly inspire a new generation of astronauts, astrophysicists, engineers, and others who are interested in sustainable space exploration. It has been reported that spacecraft launches of this nature burn approximately 400 metric tons of kerosene and leave behind a trail of carbon dioxide (“CO2”) exceeding two centuries worth of CO2 emissions from those of an average car.
Yesterday, on June 1, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, signed a final rule seeking to increase predictability for applicants by clarifying the regulations that govern the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 water quality certification process.
On May 21, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“Commission”) issued a Policy Statement on Determining Return on Equity for Natural Gas and Oil Pipelines in Docket No. PL19-4-000, that revises its policy for analyzing the return on equity (“ROE”) for interstate natural gas and oil pipelines based on the methodology established for analyzing electric utility ROEs in Opinion Nos. 569 and 569-A, with certain exceptions to account for the “statutory, operational, organizational and competitive differences among the industries.” Specifically, the Commission stated that it will: (i) determine just and reasonable natural gas and oil pipeline ROEs by averaging the results of the Discounted Cash Flow (“DCF”) model and the Capital Asset Pricing Model (“CAPM”) analyses, giving equal weight to both models; (ii) retain the existing two-thirds/one-third weighting for the short-term and long-term growth projections in the DCF model; (iii) exclude the Risk Premium model as modified in Opinion No. 569-A; (iv) consider using Value Line data as the source of the short-term growth projection in the CAPM; (v) consider proposals to include Canadian companies in pipeline proxy groups while continuing to address outliers in pipeline proxy groups on a case-by-case basis, refraining from applying specific outlier tests; and (vi) encourage, or perhaps require, oil pipelines to file updated FERC Form No. 6, page 700 data for 2019 to reflect the revised ROE policy established in the Policy Statement. Importantly, parties are not permitted to seek rehearing of the Policy Statement because it is only a statement issued to provide guidance and regulatory certainty.
Yesterday, the Railroad Commission of Texas voted by a 2-1 margin to dismiss the request that had been filed in late March of this year by two producers to determine reasonable market demand for oil and the need for curtailment of oil production in Texas.