On August 1, the Supreme Court of California upheld a decision by the Court of Appeal, which found that the Federal Power Act (FPA) preempts application of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when the state is acting on its own behalf as licensee of a hydroelectric project.Continue Reading Supreme Court of California Finds FERC License Preempts Challenge to FERC Order
On September 22, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission or FERC) issued an order on rehearing (Rehearing Order), denying the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (Interior) request to include a requirement for a hydroelectric project to notify resource agencies if any activity may affect a federally listed Endangered Species Act (ESA) species and had not already been considered in the issued license (Notification Recommendation).Continue Reading FERC Denies Interior’s Requirement for Ongoing Species Notifications
This article was republished in Pratt’s Energy Law Report (Vol. 22-10, November-December 2022).
On June 1, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a pre-publication version of its proposal to re-write the Clean Water Act Section 401 rule (Certification Proposal), which, if finalized, is expected to have far-reaching impacts on hydroelectric licensing and relicensing. The Certification Proposal is intended by EPA to replace the version of the rule finalized under the Trump administration in 2020 (2020 Rule). While the Certification Proposal maintains some aspects of the 2020 Rule, it differs in some significant areas and in many ways reverts back to the 1971 regulations.Continue Reading EPA’s Clean Water Act Certification Proposal to Significantly Impact Hydropower Licensing
On December 27, 2021, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) issued a final rule reissuing 40 existing Nationwide Permits (NWPs) with modifications and issuing a new NWP for water reclamation and reuse facilities. The 40 existing NWPs that the Corps reissued includes NWP 17, which authorizes the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with certain small hydroelectric projects.
Continue Reading Army Corps Finalizes Modified and New Nationwide Permits, Including for Certain Hydropower Projects
On February 17, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) announced two new, significant policies that may have a profound impact on both natural gas pipeline projects before the Commission and the industry in general. Headlining these policies is FERC’s new interim greenhouse gas (GHG) policy statement (Interim GHG Policy Statement), pursuant to which FERC will presume any gas project with 100,000 metric tons per year of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) emissions to have a significant impact on climate change and will trigger the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Notwithstanding the interim nature of FERC’s new Interim GHG Policy Statement – where FERC is accepting comments by April 4, 2022 – FERC clarified that it will apply both policies to all pending and new project applications, effective immediately.
Continue Reading FERC Overhauls Existing Pipeline Project Analysis, Creates Separate Interim GHG Policy for Gas Infrastructure Projects
In an August 3 opinion in the case of Vecinos para el Bienestar de la Comunidad Costera et al. v. FERC, Case No. 20-1093, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit determined that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) failed to adequately review the impacts of two proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities on greenhouse gas emissions and environmental justice communities. The court remanded the proceedings to FERC for further consideration and explanation of these issues. Though the decision focused on FERC’s authorization of natural gas facilities, it signaled that the court will carefully scrutinize an agency’s obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a statute that has far-reaching applicability in the hydropower context.
Continue Reading DC Circuit Directs FERC to Consider Environmental Impacts of LNG Facilities
Section 7(h) of the Natural Gas Act (NGA) and Section 21 Federal Power Act (FPA) respectively vest Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) natural gas pipeline certificate holders or hydroelectric licensees with the ability to exercise the federal power of eminent domain to condemn property when the project proponent is unable to acquire necessary rights by contract or negotiation with the property owner. On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court, in PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC v. New Jersey, No. 19-1039, held that the 11th Amendment of the Constitution does not bar a certificate holder under the NGA from exercising eminent domain to condemn state-owned property. Significantly for hydropower projects, the Supreme Court’s holding also potentially provides clarity that the 11th Amendment is not a bar to the analogous Section 21 provision of the FPA if a hydroelectric licensee must exercise eminent domain over project-necessary state-owned lands.
Continue Reading Hydroelectric Impact of PennEast Supreme Court Gas Pipeline Condemnation Ruling
There has been a longstanding debate about how to apply the one-year time limit on Clean Water Act Section 401 certification decisions. The D.C. Circuit court in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC, 913 F.3d 1099 (D.C. Cir. 2019) established a bright-line standard that a 401 certification must be issued or denied within one year of receipt of application, or the certification opportunity is waived. States cannot engage in actions to extend this deadline by requiring an applicant to withdraw and refile their application or by finding an application incomplete. This bright-line test was reinforced by the Second Circuit’s more recent decision in New York State Department of Environmental Conservation v. FERC, 991 F.3d 439 (2d Cir. 2021). This interpretation was also codified in EPA’s 2020 Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule. See 85 Fed. Reg. 42210 (July 13, 2020). However, on July 2, the Fourth Circuit offered a different interpretation of Section 401 in its decision in N.C. Department of Environmental Quality v. FERC, No. 20-1655 (McMahan Hydro).
Continue Reading The Fourth Circuit Weighs In on the Interpretation of CWA Section 401
On March 17, 2021, a coalition of environmental organizations and clean energy groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a rulemaking that would amend the Uniform Systems of Accounts (USofA) requirements to disallow utilities from recovering the cost of membership from ratepayers in associations engaged in lobbying or other influence-related activities. CBD argues that these associations lack transparency, and many engage in “anti-climate” advocacy, including lobbying and campaigning activities, that do not align with the priorities of ratepayers.
Continue Reading Clean Energy Groups Ask FERC for Transparency Into “Anti-Climate” Groups
On March 31, U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello found that the Federal Power Act (FPA) is the exclusive authority with regards to controversies related to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) -issued hydroelectric licenses, including challenges that stem from the permitting decisions of other federal agencies acting under their independent statutory authority. In Save the Colorado v. Semonite, Civil Action No. 18-cv-03258 (D. Colo. Mar. 31, 2021), the court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction over an appeal of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 permit and the associated U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Endangered Species Act (ESA) biological opinion since these are actions “inhere[d] in the controversy” related to the FERC license.
Continue Reading District Court Lacked Jurisdiction Over Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit Challenge Involving FERC License Amendment