The successful completion of major infrastructure construction projects often depends on the amount of time required for federal agencies to process environmental reviews and make authorization decisions. This is particularly true where multiple federal agencies are involved in the process and the decisions or timeliness of one can influence the decisions or timeliness of another. While numerous administrations have attempted to address multi-agency federal permitting processes in an effort to gain efficiencies, the Trump administration has taken significant steps to ensure that federal agencies work together in ways that will reduce the amount of time required to complete all environmental reviews and issue all required authorizations. Continue Reading PHMSA and FERC Commit to Permitting Process MOU
On July 10, 2018, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit rejected an environmental group’s claim that FERC’s funding mechanism results in unconstitutional bias in favor of the pipeline industry. The court also rebuffed a due process attack on the Commission’s use of “tolling orders” to avoid automatic denial of rehearing requests after 30 days. The decision is noteworthy as it represents the latest rejection of similar constitutional challenges to FERC’s operations and practices that pipeline opponents have been raising with increasing frequency. The ruling also highlights the difficulty of bypassing the Natural Gas Act’s administrative rehearing and judicial review process through novel broadside attacks on the Commission’s general practices and procedures.
On May 17, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission) held its May 2018 open meeting. Highlights of the meeting include:
In his opening remarks, Chairman McIntyre announced that the Commission would soon be turning to a review of its long-standing policies under the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA). He noted that the Commission had initiated a review of these policies in 2015-2016 and had held a technical conference on certain PURPA issues in 2016. He has directed Commission staff to restart the initiative so the Commission can determine what, if anything, should be done to improve and update the policies. The other commissioners were supportive of this initiative. Commissioner Powelson pushed for an expedited review of the PURPA policies, referencing the previously developed record. Commissioner Glick indicated that any changes to policies should address issues raised not only by industry, but also by qualifying facility developers. The commissioners also acknowledged that more substantial changes to PURPA would have to be addressed by Congress. Continue Reading FERC May 2018 Open Meeting Highlights
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.
On March 12, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) order finding that delays by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) in reviewing Millennium Pipeline Company’s application for water quality certification constituted waiver of NYDEC’s authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
On February 15, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission) held its February 2018 open meeting. Among other things, the Commission acted on two major rulemakings and took significant action regarding transmission planning in PJM. Continue Reading FERC February 2018 Open Meeting Highlights
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 (NEPA), 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 (FERC) 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.
On January 31, 2018, in proceedings to condemn easements for the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, the US District Court for the Western District of Virginia ruled that the pipeline company’s preliminary injunction motions for pretrial possession of the easements would be granted only if it appraised each of the nearly 300 properties at issue.
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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? Continue Reading Congress Considers PURPA Revisions
On January 11, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied Constitution Pipeline Company, LLC’s Petition for a Declaratory Order that New York had waived its ability to act under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) by failing to grant or deny Constitution’s application for a section 401 certification within a “reasonable period of time.” See In re Constitution Pipeline Co., LLC, 162 FERC ¶ 61,014 (Jan. 11, 2018). The decision is another in a sequence of decisions from FERC and the federal courts of appeals concerning the time period for States to act under section 401.
Read the full report on PipelineLaw.com.