Federal agencies that authorize or permit large infrastructure projects, like interstate natural gas pipelines, are often subject to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, and environmental organizations frequently rely on NEPA to challenge a project. The D.C. Circuit recently struck down a decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve the construction and operation of three interstate natural gas pipelines because the Court found defects in FERC’s NEPA analysis. The court’s decision to vacate FERC’s authorization now threatens to shut down the pipelines, including the Sabal Trail pipeline currently supplying natural gas to newly constructed power plants in Florida.
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The House Energy & Commerce Committee is considering revising the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (“PURPA”), a 1978 law enacted in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo to promote energy conservation and production by domestic alternative energy sources, including renewables. Why is Congress considering changing it, and what would the proposed revisions do?
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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.
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On November 16, 2017, the D.C. Circuit heard oral argument in the cases challenging EPA’s 2012 rule allowing states to rely on compliance with the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) to satisfy electric generating units’ “best available retrofit technology” (BART) requirements for emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide under the Clean Air Act (CAA). The cases are UARG v. EPA, No. 12-1342­ and consolidated cases (D.C. Cir.).
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When Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems on which they depend, it emphasized the need to strike the proper balance between protecting species and allowing productive human activities. Widespread concern that this balance has been lost has sparked movement within the Trump Administration and Congress to improve the ESA and its implementation. With these key changes, the Trump Administration and Congress could make significant progress to restore what many believe is the ESA’s intended balance between the protection of species and economic growth.
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Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court held that in the Federal Power Act (FPA), Congress had drawn a “bright line, easily ascertained, between federal and state jurisdiction…by making [federal] jurisdiction plenary and extending it to all wholesale sales in interstate commerce except those which Congress has made explicitly subject to regulation by the States.” FPC v. Southern California Edison Co. (Colton), 376 U.S. 205, 206-07 (1964). Several recent federal court decisions, including two decisions addressing the implementation of Zero Emissions Credits (ZECs) by New York and Illinois, highlight just how blurred that “bright line” has become in an era where Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulation relies primarily on markets, rather than cost-of-service ratemaking, to ensure just, reasonable and not unduly discriminatory electricity prices. For good measure, these decisions also break new ground on the justiciability of FPA preemption claims brought by private parties in federal court.

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Environmental groups are raising the stakes for power companies facing allegations of coal-ash liability. Power plants that burn coal to produce electricity also create byproducts in the process, known as “coal combustion residuals,” or CCRs. CCRs go by several names, but are commonly known as “coal ash.”

Historically, power companies have stored CCRs in settling ponds, also known as “coal-ash basins.” Coal-ash storage and disposal can lead to allegations of groundwater contamination and environmental contamination claims. Environmental groups have sought to require companies to pay for remediation of disposal sites and alleged groundwater contamination; address alleged natural resource damages; and conduct extensive monitoring and sampling of onsite and offsite sediments, groundwater, fish, and other wildlife.


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On August 23, the Department of Energy (DOE) released a study entitled “Staff Report to the Secretary on Energy Markets and Reliability.” This is the so-called “DOE grid study” that Secretary of Energy Rick Perry ordered his chief of staff Brian McCormack to produce in an April 14 memorandum, noting that “Over the last few years…grid experts have expressed concerns about the erosion of critical baseload resources.”

These concerns have been simmering for several years. As the US Environmental Protection Agency was developing the rule that became the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)—prompted by then-Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Republican Lisa Murkowski—held a multi-day meeting to evaluate potential electric reliability impacts from anticipated closings of coal-fired power plants prompted by the rule.


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Since President Trump’s inauguration and the beginning of Scott Pruitt’s tenure as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), much of the focus of Clean Air Act activity in the new administration has been on global climate change issues. As more time passes, however, EPA is beginning to address other areas of Clean Air Act regulatory policy, and, in some respects at least, charting a new course that departs from the record of the Obama administration. One of the areas to which EPA has started to give renewed attention is the regional haze program.
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Throughout the Obama administration, federal officials from the President on down touted an “all of the above” approach to energy policy.  At the same time, they pressed forward with environmental regulations—climate change rules in particular—that would have made a seismic shift in the role fossil fuels play in the nation’s energy mix.

We all know the Trump administration is poised to make major changes.  A shakeup for the EPA was a consistent theme of the Trump campaign. The President made things official in March when he signed an executive order that, among other things, called for a “review” of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the EPA’s program to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, and a proposed rule regarding the CPP is now under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget. The administration has also announced plans to cut the EPA’s budget, to take a new “red team-blue team” approach to climate change science, and to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. That’s quite a lot of activity for an administration that is often accused of moving too slowly.
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