Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that use and development and alienation restrictions in a deed applied to both the surface and subsurface of the properties at issue in this case and that the village of Barnesville violated the restrictions when it transferred oil and gas rights to another entity without obtaining written permission from Ohio Public Works Commission (OPWC), holding that there was no error.The village received two grants to finance the purchase of two properties for conservation projects. The OPWC brought this action claiming that the village violated transfer and use restrictions in the deeds for the properties at issue by transferring oil and gas rights to another entity, which leased those rights to Gulfport Energy Corporation, without obtaining the OPWC's permission. The court of appeals granted judgment in favor of OPWC. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals correctly determined that the village violated the use and development restrictions when it transferred oil and gas rights without OPWC's written consent. View "Ohio Public Works Commission v. Village of Barnesville" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff alleged that toxic chemicals used during the carpet manufacturing process have been allowed to seep into the rivers that supply drinking water to communities near Dalton, including Rome, Georgia and the rest of Floyd County. On behalf of himself and a proposed class of water subscribers and ratepayers, he sued Dalton Utilities, a municipal corporation that operates Dalton’s wastewater treatment system, for violating the Clean Water Act and for creating a public nuisance. His lawsuit claims that Dalton Utilities has caused the City of Rome’s domestic water supply to be contaminated with dangerously high levels of toxic chemicals.   The question before the Eleventh Circuit was whether Dalton Utilities is entitled to municipal immunity from Plaintiff’s nuisance abatement (injunctive relief) claim. The Eleventh Circuit denied Plaintiff’s motion to dismiss Dalton Utilities’ appeal for lack of jurisdiction. However, the court affirmed district court’s order denying Dalton Utilities’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s nuisance abatement claim on municipal immunity grounds. The court explained that at oral argument counsel for Dalton Utilities conceded that if Phillips is still good law, Plaintiff has properly alleged a Phillips kind of nuisance claim for personal injury. The court agreed and held that municipal immunity does not shield Dalton Utilities from Plaintiff’s nuisance abatement claim. View "Jarrod Johnson v. Water, Light, and Sinking Fund Commission of City of Dalton" on Justia Law

by
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) licensing of the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River in Maryland. Under section 401(a)(1) of the Clean Water Act, FERC may issue a license only if the state where the dam is located either certifies that the dam will comply with the Act’s water quality standards or waives its authority to do so. After initially granting a section 401(a)(1) certification, Maryland attempted to withdraw it and waive its authority as part of a settlement with the dam’s operator, which FERC then used as the basis for the Conowingo license.   The DC Circuit vacated the license explaining that by issuing a license under such circumstances, FERC exceeded its authority under section 401(a)(1). The court remanded o FERC for further proceedings. The court explained that Section 401(a)(1) limits FERC’s power to issue a license to two circumstances: (1) where a state has granted a certification; or (2) where the state has waived its authority to certify “as provided in the preceding sentence” by failing or refusing to act. This leaves no room for FERC’s third alternative, in which it issued a license based on a private settlement arrangement entered into by Maryland after the state had issued a certification with conditions but then changed its mind. Accordingly, the court held that vacatur is appropriate. View "Waterkeepers Chesapeake v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
Otter Tail Power Company provided electric service to the City of Drayton, North Dakota under a franchise agreement. In August 2019, Drayton annexed to the city property known as McFarland’s Addition. In November 2019, an entity purchased a portion of McFarland’s Addition with the intention of building a truck stop. In April 2020, Drayton passed a resolution requiring Otter Tail to provide electric service to McFarland’s Addition. Nodak Electric Coop provided service to rural customers outside of Drayton, and did not provide services to customers in McFarland’s Addition. Nodak did not have a franchise from Drayton to provide electric service in the city. Nodak filed suit against Otter Tail, requesting the Public Service Commission to prohibit Otter Tail from extending electric service to McFarland’s Addition. Nodak alleged Otter Tail’s service would interfere with Nodak’s existing service and be an unreasonable duplication of services. In response, Otter Tail claimed the PSC lacked jurisdiction over Drayton’s decision on which provider could extend service within the city. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the PSC lacked jurisdiction to rule on Nodak’s complaint, and reversed and vacated the PSC’s order: Otter Tail’s motion to dismiss should have been granted. View "Nodak Electric Coop. v. N.D. Public Svc. Commission, et al." on Justia Law

by
This case involves an ongoing dispute between owners and operators of power lines and power generators over who is responsible for paying for upgrades to existing power lines. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled in favor of the owners and operators; however, FERC's decision was not "reasonably explained." Thus, the D.C. Circuit remanded the case back to FERC without vacating the FERC order because the court found that the FERC ruling may very well stand once it is explained. View "American Clean Power Assoc v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
The federal district court for the District of North Dakota certified five questions regarding N.D.C.C. § 38-08-08(1) and North Dakota Industrial Commission pooling orders. The litigation before the federal court involved allocation of mineral royalties in the case of overlapping oil and gas spacing units. Allen and Arlen Dominek owned oil and gas interests in Williams County, North Dakota. In 2011, the North Dakota Industrial Commission pooled the interests in Section 13 on the Dominek property with the interests in Section 24 in a 1280-acre spacing unit (the “Underlying Spacing Unit”). In 2016, the Commission pooled the interests in Sections 11, 12, 13, and 14 in a 2560-acre spacing unit (the “Overlapping Spacing Unit). The "Weisz" well terminated in the southeast corner of Section 14. The Defendants (together “Equinor”) operated the Weisz well. The Domineks sued Equinor in federal district court to recover revenue proceeds from the Weisz well. The parties agreed production from the Weisz well should have been allocated equally to the four sections comprising the Overlapping Spacing Unit. Their disagreement was whether the 25% attributable to Section 13 should have been shared with the interest owners in Section 24 given those sections were pooled in the Underlying Spacing Unit. In response to the motions, the federal district court certified five questions to the North Dakota Court. Responding "no" to the first: whether language from N.D.C.C. § 38-08-08(1) required production from Section 13 to be allocated to Section 24, the Supreme Court declined to answer the remaining questions because it found they were based on an assumption that the Commission had jurisdiction to direct how production was allocated among mineral interest owners. "Questions concerning correlative rights and the Commission’s jurisdiction entail factual considerations. ... An undeveloped record exposes this Court 'to the danger of improvidently deciding issues and of not sufficiently contemplating ramifications of the opinion.'” View "Dominek, et al. v. Equinor Energy, et al." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Public Service Commission of West Virginia (PSC) ordering Equitrans, LC, a natural gas interstate pipeline company, to permit Hope Gas to connect a natural gas field tap on property owned by Ronald and Ashton Hall to Equitrans' "gathering line," holding that the PSC properly exercised jurisdiction in this matter.Seeking to divest itself of its gathering facilities Equitrans applied to the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) to abandon and sell its gathering facilities. FERC approved the application. When Equitrans denied Hope Gas's request to reestablish a service connection to the Halls' residence the Halls filed their complaint with the PSC. The PSC found that it had jurisdiction over the gathering facilities. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the PSC properly exercised jurisdiction over the gathering facility at issue. View "Equitrans, L.P. v. Public Service Comm'n of W. Va." on Justia Law

by
In this case's previous trip to the Court of Appeal, the Court reversed the trial court’s judgment overturning a cleanup order issued by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Central Valley Region (Regional Board). The cleanup order directed Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) to remediate hazardous waste associated with an abandoned mine in Plumas County. The mine was owned by the Walker Mining Company, a subsidiary of ARCO’s predecessors in interest, International Smelting and Refining Company and Anaconda Copper Mining Company (International/Anaconda). The Court of Appeal held the trial court improperly applied the test articulated in United States v. Bestfoods, 524 U.S. 51 (1998) for determining whether a parent company is directly liable for pollution as an operator of a polluting facility owned by a subsidiary. On remand, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the Regional Board, concluding “[t]he record supported a determination of eccentric control of mining ‘operations specifically related to pollution, that is, operations having to do with the leakage or disposal of hazardous waste.’ ” ARCO appealed, contending: (1) the trial court improperly applied Bestfoods to the facts of this case, resulting in a finding of liability that was unsupported by substantial evidence; (2) the Regional Board abused its discretion by failing to exclude certain expert testimony as speculative; (3) the Regional Board’s actual financial bias in this matter required invalidation of the cleanup order for violation of due process; and (4) the cleanup order erroneously imposed joint and several liability on ARCO. Finding no reversible error to this order, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Atlantic Richfield Co. v. California Regional Water Quality etc." on Justia Law

by
Ohio Nuclear-Free Network (Ohio Nuclear) and Beyond Nuclear petitioned for review of a decision of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC, Commission), issuing an amended materials license to American Centrifuge Operating, LLC (American Centrifuge). The amended license authorizes American Centrifuge to produce high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) at a facility near Piketon, Ohio pursuant to a demonstration program with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Petitioners contended that the NRC issued the amended license without first preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which they assert was required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).   The DC Circuit dismissed their petition. The court concluded that because Petitioners failed to properly intervene in the manner required by 42 U.S.C. Section 2339 and the NRC’s AEA regulations, they were not parties to the licensing amendment proceeding they asked the DC Circuit to review. Accordingly, under the Hobbs Act, 28 U.S.C. Section 2344, the court dismissed their petition for review for lack of jurisdiction View "Ohio Nuclear-Free Network v. NRC" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the Energy Facilities Siting Board approving a project change petition filed by NSTAR Electric Company, doing business as Eversource Energy, that would move the boundaries of an electric substation 190 feet from the location that had previously been approved, holding that the Board did not err in approving the project change.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the Board did not err in determining that GreenRoots, Inc. did not satisfy the applicable legal standard for the reopening of a completed adjudicatory proceeding; (2) the Board complied with the statutory and regulatory requirements regarding public participation and environmental justice; and (3) the Board's conclusion that Eversource reasonably addressed risks from future sea level rise under the circumstances was supported by substantial evidence. View "GreenRoots, Inc. v. Energy Facilities Siting Bd." on Justia Law