Two notable developments in the past few weeks signal potential changes ahead to the policies and timeframes for pipeline approvals, particularly natural gas pipelines under Federal Energy Regulatory Commission oversight. These developments reflect both the increased public scrutiny of the pipeline approval process seen in recent years and the emphasis placed by the current administration on expediting review and approval of major infrastructure projects, two factors that are in some tension with each other.
Earlier this month, the United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology published a staff report entitled “Russian Attempts to Influence U.S. Domestic Energy Markets by Exploiting Social Media.” The report is the result of the Committee’s investigation into Russian efforts to influence U.S. energy markets.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or the Commission) announced last month that it will review its policies governing the certification process for natural gas pipelines. The announcement was made by FERC Chairman Kevin J. McIntyre on December 21, 2017, in fulfillment of a pledge that he made during his Senate confirmation hearing in September 2017. The format and scope of the review are still being determined.
Read the full report on PipelineLaw.com.
After a string of highly publicized attacks on energy pipelines in different areas of the country, several Congressmen addressed a letter to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month, asking that the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) respond to several questions concerning the ability and intent of the DOJ to investigate and prosecute criminal activity against energy infrastructure at the federal level. The letter also asks for DOJ clarification on whether attacks against the nation’s energy infrastructure fall within the DOJ’s understanding of 18 U.S.C. § 2331(5), which defines “domestic terrorism” to include activities that “involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State” and that “appear to be intended to . . . influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” For more information, see our post on PipelineLaw.
In a closely watched case, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week dismissed an interstate natural gas pipeline company’s challenge to the State of New York’s delay in issuing a water quality certification under section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) for the Millennium pipeline project. While the company requested a ruling that the state had waived its right to make a decision on water quality certification for the project, the court decided to dismiss the action – holding that even if the state agency’s lengthy delays did constitute a waiver under CWA section 401, there was no cognizable injury to the company that would give it standing to challenge the delays in court. Rather, according to the court, the remedy is for the company to present evidence of waiver directly to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to seek authorization to begin construction of the project. The case is one of several pending across the country that involve a state’s authority to issue, deny, or waive a CWA water quality certification for interstate natural gas pipeline projects.
Despite oil already flowing through the pipeline, federal litigation involving the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) took another turn last week when partial summary judgment was granted to tribes challenging the adequacy of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ review of DAPL under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other statutes. Two tribes, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, filed suit in July 2016 attempting to block construction of the last remaining segment and operation of DAPL. As sometimes is the case, agency approvals came faster than the court’s opinion, and without a stay of proceedings DAPL began operating in early June 2017. Having granted partial summary judgment, the court did not require pipeline operations to cease, instead delaying the question of an appropriate remedy until after further briefing by the parties.
In the latest of a series of moves reflecting the state’s intention to double down on its climate change agenda in the wake of President Trump’s inauguration, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) recently approved a new regulation aimed at curbing methane emissions from oil and gas operations. This measure, characterized by CARB as “the most comprehensive of its kind in the country,” comes on the heels of several actions recently announced by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) to reassess the climate change programs of the previous administration, specifically those targeted at oil and gas sector emissions.