Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the North Carolina Utilities Commission addressing Dominion Energy North Carolina's application for a general increase in its North Carolina retail rates, holding that Dominion's challenges to the Commission's order were unavailing.In the order at issue, the Commission authorized Dominion to calculate its North Carolina retail rates by, inter alia, amortizing certain costs. Dominion appealed, arguing that the Commission acted capriciously and arbitrarily in failing to follow applicable precedent. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission's order was supported by competent, substantial evidence and that the Commission adequately explained the basis for the portions of its decision that Dominion challenged on appeal. View "State ex rel. Utilities Commission v. Virginia Electric & Power Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Energy Facility Siting Board (the board or EFSB) concerning the relocation of power lines across the Providence and Seekonk Rivers, holding that Petitioners had standing and that review of the Board's decisions was timely.Petitioners in this case were the City of Providence, Friends of India Point Park, The Hilton Garden Inn, and The R.I. Seafood Festival. Petitioners sought review of a January 17, 2018 order in which the Board stated that the "bridge alignment north" and the "underground alignment" were not feasible but approved the "bridge alignment south." Respondents - EFSB, the City of East Providence, and National Grid - sought review of the order. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) all Petitioners except for Hilton lacked standing in this matter; and (2) while the Board's order was deficient, the next preferred alignment was the bridge alignment south, and therefore, the order of the Board is upheld. View "In re Narragansett Electric Co." on Justia Law

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William Danks appealed a district court judgment affirming the Public Utilities Commission’s (“PUC’s” or “Commission’s”) decision that a gas-gathering system operated by DCP Operating Company, L.P. (“DCP”) did not meet the statutory definition of a public utility and therefore was not subject to the PUC’s jurisdiction. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the PUC regularly pursued its authority in reaching this decision, that the decision was just and reasonable, and that the PUC’s conclusions were in accordance with the evidence. View "Danks v. Colorado Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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The City of Salisbury, North Carolina relies on the Yankin River for its drinking water. The City constructed a pump station on the Yankin River, which the City believed was threatened by a plan proposed by the operator of a nearby hydroelectric damn and approved by FERC. The City challenged the plan and FERC's approval.The D.C. Circuit dismissed the City's petition, finding that the proposed rule was within the license granted to the dam operator and was not arbitrary. The operator of the dam was required to implement a flood protection plan, including 1.) physical modifications to the facilities such as a protective dike for the pump station, 2.) improved access to the pump station with the road consistent with the City of Salisbury’s design or 3.) other feasible options for achieving the same benefits. The proposed plan meets the requirement of the flood protection plan. Additionally, the court determined that FERC's approval of the plan was not arbitrary. View "City of Salisbury, North Carolina v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the decisions of the lower courts affirming a general permit that the Maryland Department of the Environment issued for operators of thirty-five small municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) in Maryland, including Petitioner Queen Anne's County, which operated a small MS4, holding that conditions based on regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the general permit for small MS4s are not unlawful simply because they may exceed the minimum requirements of the Clean Water Act.In Maryland Department of the Environment v. County Commissioners of Carroll County, 140 S. Ct. 1265 (2020), the Court of Appeals held that permits issued to counties that operated MS4s were lawful even if some permit conditions exceeded the minimum requirements of the Act. In the instant case, the circuit court for Queen Anne's County concluded that the decision in Carroll County addressed the issues raised by the County and affirmed the permit. The court of special appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the holdings of Carroll County applied in this case; and (2) an impervious surface restoration requirement in the permit, which was similar to but less onerous than a permit requirement assessed in Carroll County, did not unlawfully make the County responsible for discharges by third parties. View "Small MS4 Coalition v. Department of Environment" on Justia Law

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Defendants, ERR, LLC; Evergreen Resource Recovery, LLC (collectively “ERR”), owns and operates a wastewater treatment facility. One of ERR’s spill contractors, Oil Mop, performed oil removal and soil remediation. Oil Mop submitted a claim to the National Pollution Funds Center (“NPFC”) for reimbursement of removal costs after ERR refused to pay. The NPFC reimbursed Oil Mop and billed ERR for what it paid Oil Mop.   ERR refused to pay and the Government then sued ERR for what it paid Oil Mop. The Government moved to strike ERR’s demand for a jury trial.  The district court held a bench trial after concluding that the Government’s Oil Pollution Act (“OPA”) claims sound not in law but in equity.   On appeal, the Fifth Circuit addressed ERR’s Seventh Amendment challenge and held that the Seventh Amendment guarantees ERR’s right to a jury trial of the Government’s OPA claims. The court explained that it must consider two factors when determining whether a right of action requires a jury trial. First, the court compared the statutory action to 18th-century actions brought in the courts of England prior to the merger of the courts of law and equity. Second, the court examined the remedy sought and determined whether it is legal or equitable in nature.   Here, the court concluded that the Recoupment Claim sounds in law and hence triggers ERR’s Seventh Amendment right to a jury. Next, the court held that both the nature of the Government’s action and the type of remedy sound in law. View "USA v. E.R.R." on Justia Law

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S Bar Ranch owned approximately 3000 acres of land in rural Elmore County, Idaho. S Bar purchased the land in 2015. There were very few structures on S Bar’s property, save for an airplane hangar that included a five-hundred square-foot apartment. S Bar’s address was listed in Sun Valley, Idaho, and its principal, Chris Stephens, used the property for recreational purposes. Cat Creek Energy, LLC, an Idaho company managed by John Faulkner, owned and managed more than 23,000 acres of land in Elmore County near Anderson Ranch reservoir. Faulkner, on behalf of his other companies, leased land to Cat Creek to develop the project at issue in this dispute. In late 2014 and early 2015, Cat Creek began the process of obtaining conditional use permits (“CUPs”) for a proposed alternative energy development (“the project”) in Elmore County. As initially proposed, the project had five components: a 50,000 acre-foot reservoir with hydroelectric turbines, up to 39 wind turbines, approximately 174,000 photovoltaic solar panels, electrical transmission lines, and an onsite power substation. Cat Creek sought to build the project on approximately 23,000 acres of land that it had leased near Anderson Ranch Reservoir. In 2019, the district court issued a Memorandum Decision and Order, affirming the Board’s decisions with respect to the CUPs. The district court found that S Bar only had standing to challenge the CUPs relating to wind turbines, electric transmission lines, and the on-site substation. The district court also reiterated its prior oral ruling that a 2017 CUP Order was a final agency action and that S Bar’s petition for judicial review of that order was untimely. With regard to the development agreement and a 2018 CUP Amendment, the district court concluded that the Board did not err in a manner specified by Idaho Code section 67-5279 and that S Bar had not shown that its substantial rights had been prejudiced. S Bar appealed, but finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed judgment in favor of Cat Creek. View "S Bar Ranch v. Elmore County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court which partially affirmed and partially reversed two earlier orders on reconsideration issued by the Montana Public Service Commission, holding that the district court erred in affirming the Commission's orders as related to interconnection costs associated with a certain transmission line.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) erred in upholding the Commission's determination assigning $267 million in network upgrade costs to Appellants; (2) correctly upheld the Commission's decision to calculate avoided energy costs using a proxy model; (3) properly upheld the Commission's decision to calculate ancillary service deductions based on NorthWestern Energy Corporation's proposed rates; and (4) properly upheld the Commission's determination that fifteen-year contract lengths were appropriate for all three of Appellant's projects. View "CED Wheatland Wind, LLC v. Montana Department of Public Service Regulation" on Justia Law

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OXY USA, Inc. appealed a decision of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue (“ONRR”) ordering it to pay an additional $1,820,652.66 in royalty payments on federal gas leases that were committed to the Bravo Dome Unit (“the Unit”). The owner of the leases OXY subsequently acquired - Amerada Hess Corporation (“Hess”) - used almost all of the CO2 it produced in the Unit for its own purposes rather than sale. ONRR rejected Hess’s valuation method and established its own. Hess appealed, and ONRR’s Director issued a decision reducing the amount Hess owed but affirming the remainder of ONRR’s order. Hess appealed to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, but the Board did not issue a final merits decision prior to the 33-month limitations period. On appeal to the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, the district court rejected OXY’s challenge to the amount of royalties owed and affirmed the Director’s decision. Finding ONRR's interpretation and application of the marketable-condition rule to this case was not plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the applicable regulations, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "OXY USA v. DOI, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Magnum Energy, Inc. appealed a Board of Adjustment for the City of Norman (Board) decision denying Plaintiff's application for a variance from the City's business licensing requirement that oil and gas operators maintain two million dollars in umbrella liability coverage. The trial court granted summary judgment in Plaintiff's favor, finding that the requirement conflicted with State law and was therefore unenforceable. The Board appealed the trial court's order; the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the order, finding no conflict between the requirement and State law. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, finding the requirement conflicted with 52 O.S.Supp.2015 section 137.1, rendering the requirement invalid and unenforceable. View "Magnum Energy v. Bd. of Adjustment for the City of Norman" on Justia Law