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.
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.