On May 6, 2019, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (“Oregon DEQ”) denied a water quality certification under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) for the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (“LNG”) export terminal and its feeder pipeline, the Pacific Connector, to be located on Oregon’s southern coast.
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On May 9, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”) dismissed Otsego 2000 Inc.’s (“Otsego”) petition to set aside a FERC order granting a certificate to Dominion Energy Transmission Inc. (“Dominion”) to construct and operate its New Market Project (“Project”).  Specifically, the D.C. Circuit found that Otsego failed to demonstrate standing to petition the court and that Otsego’s expenditure of resources for litigation was insufficient to demonstrate standing.
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On April 23, 2019, FERC denied Flint Riverkeeper’s and Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s (“Riverkeepers”) request for attorney’s fees after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”) vacated the certificates of public convenience and necessity (“CPCNs”) FERC issued for the Southeast Market Pipelines Project (see March 20, 2018 edition of the WER).  In doing so, FERC found, among other things, that the certificate proceeding at FERC did not qualify as an “adversary proceeding” under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) for which the Riverkeepers could seek attorney’s fees because: (1) certificate proceedings are excluded from the definition of “adversary proceeding” and (2) FERC is not represented by counsel in a certificate proceeding but rather acts as an adjudicator.
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On April 18, 2019, FERC issued a unanimous order, supported by all FERC Commissioners, ruling that the California State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB”) waived authority to issue a water quality certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), 33 U.S.C. § 1641, in the pending hydropower relicensing of the Middle Fork American River Project (“Project”).  Applying the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s (“D.C. Circuit”) seminal opinion in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC issued in early 2019 (see January 30, 2019 edition of the WER), FERC held that SWRCB’s “active[] participation” in the applicant’s annual withdrawal-and-resubmittal of the license applicant’s request for Section 401 certification since 2012, “on occasion directly requesting the withdrawal and refiling,” constituted an agreement between the applicant and SWRCB that does not re-start the maximum one-year time period for states to act on a request for water quality certification under Section 401.
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On April 3, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”) issued an unpublished opinion dismissing challenges to three FERC orders that granted certificates of public convenience and necessity to Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC (“Transco”) for three interstate pipeline projects: the Virginia Southside Expansion Project, the Dalton Expansion Project, and the Atlantic Sunrise Project (see previous reports on challenges to the Atlantic Sunrise Project in the December 12, 2017 edition of the WER and the September 12, 2018 edition of the WER).  The D.C. Circuit found that the North Carolina Utilities Commission (“NCUC”) and the New York State Public Service Commission (“NYSPSC”) lacked standing to challenge FERC’s orders because they did not show a “substantial probability” that gas transported by the Atlantic Sunrise Project would flow to their states, and did not provide any evidence of injury resulting from the Dalton Expansion and Virginia Southside Expansion Projects.
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On April 2, 2019, FERC affirmed its decision that the New York Department of Environmental Conversation (“NY DEC”) waived its authority to issue or deny a Clean Water Act (“CWA”) section 401 water quality permit application filed by National Fuel Gas Supply Corporation and Empire Pipeline, Inc. (collectively, “National Fuel”) by failing to act on the application within one year of receipt.  Specifically, FERC held that an agreement between NY DEC and National Fuel to alter the receipt date of the application did not extend the CWA’s statutory one-year deadline for NY DEC to act on the application.
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On March 19, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (“First Circuit”) found that FERC’s issuance of a certificate of public convenience and necessity (“CPCN”) authorizing Algonquin Gas Transmission, LLC’s (“Algonquin”) compressor station construction in the Town of Weymouth, Massachusetts (“Weymouth”) preempted Weymouth’s later denial of a Wetland Protection Ordinance (“WPO” or “Ordinance”) permit that ultimately prohibited Algonquin from constructing a compressor station in Weymouth.  Notably, the First Circuit found that Weymouth’s WPO permit denial was preempted, in part, because FERC considered essentially the same environmental factors Weymouth relied on to deny the WPO permit.
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On March 21, 2019, FERC issued a Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) seeking information regarding whether and how to revise its policy for determining the rate of return on equity (“ROE”) used in setting rates charged by jurisdictional public utilities.  The NOI also seeks comment on whether any changes to the Commission’s ROE policies for public utilities should be applied to interstate natural gas and oil pipelines.  Specifically, the NOI requests information in eight areas:  (1) the role of FERC’s base ROE in investment decision-making and what objectives should guide the Commission’s approach; (2) whether uniform application of FERC’s base ROE policy across the electric, interstate natural gas pipeline and oil pipeline industries is appropriate and advisable; (3) performance of the discounted cash flow (“DCF”) model; (4) proxy groups; (5) the choice of financial model(s) used; (6) the mismatch between market-based ROE determinations and book-value rate base; (7) how FERC determines whether an existing ROE is unjust and unreasonable under the first prong of Federal Power Act section 206; and (8) model mechanics and implementation.
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At a time of significant industry transformation driven by technological change and spurred on by environmental policy concerns, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) has now added a significant layer to the stack of policy debates – the future of transmission investment.  Many states have seized the initiative in terms of establishing preferable resource mixes for in-state customers, and are spearheading significant pushes for greater renewable and storage resource deployment.  FERC has now joined the fray by opening up the policy debate anew regarding how to spur (or whether to spur) additional transmission sector investment.  The FERC order described below focuses on regulatory and market rules impacting transmission investment (Docket No. PL19-3-000).  The agency also opened a companion docket requesting comments on the details of its policies regarding establishment of a public utility transmission owner’s stated return on equity (“ROE”) (Docket No. PL19-4-000).  The Washington Energy Report will provide detailed summaries of these orders via our blog.  FERC’s mention here of “an increased emphasis on the reliability of transmission infrastructure” (emphasis added) could signal an attempt to re-focus the U.S. Department of Energy’s resiliency concerns to an arena that gives FERC home-field advantage.  Lest the states forget, FERC controls the price of admission for a ticket to the interstate transmission network, and this open-ended fact-finding effort bears a high likelihood of impacting the price of such tickets (for a large portion of the continental United States).
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