On February 11, 2021, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announced plans to create a senior position at the Commission to coordinate incorporation of environmental justice (EJ) concerns into the Commission’s decision-making process.  FERC Chairman Richard Glick indicated that the newly created office would be a cross-cutting position and that its eventual occupant would be charged with working with experts across all FERC program offices to ensure that EJ and equity matters are integrated into Commission decisions.  On May 20, Chairman Glick announced the appointment of Montina Cole to serve as Senior Counsel for Environmental Justice and Equity.  The FERC press release describes Cole as a “seasoned executive and attorney” with an active consulting and legal practice, “where she works at the intersection of climate policy, racial equity and resilience.”
Continue Reading FERC Fills Newly Created EJ Position

On May 20, 2021, FERC issued two orders in which it authorized two pipeline companies to construct and abandon certain pipeline facilities, subject to conditions. In an exciting and sometimes tense Commission open-meeting, the Commission ultimately approved Northern Natural Gas Company’s (“Northern”) application to construct and operate certain pipeline compression and auxiliary facilities and abandon short segments of existing pipeline (“2021 Expansion Project”) in Minnesota.

Continue Reading FERC Approves Pipeline Certificates with Last Minute Amendment Caveating GHG NEPA Analysis as “Information Only”

Addressing environmental justice (EJ) concerns highlighted during the campaign is an important priority for the Biden Administration.  Within a week of taking the oath of office, President Biden issued a sweeping executive order with a number of EJ initiatives, including creation of a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council consisting of the heads of each Cabinet-level and independent federal agency.  The order also directed federal agencies to “make achieving environmental justice part of their missions” through development of programs and policies aimed at addressing disproportionately high adverse environmental impacts on disadvantaged communities.
Continue Reading FERC to Increase Focus on Environmental Justice

On March 18, 2021, FERC issued a Final Rule amending its regulations to establish a one-year period for states, tribes, or other certifying authorities (“Certifying Agencies”) to act on a Clean Water Act (“CWA”) Section 401 water quality certification request for proposed natural gas and liquefied natural gas projects.
Continue Reading FERC Establishes Water Quality Certification Waiver Period for Natural Gas Projects

In 2019, the D.C. Circuit in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC  held that the plain language of Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 establishes a bright-line maximum period of one year for States to act on a request for water quality certification and that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission) was arbitrary and capricious when it failed to enforce the statutory time-limit.  Since the Hoopa Valley Tribe ruling, the Commission has repeatedly held that a State waives its authority under Section 401 when it has sought to extend the one year review period by requesting or directing the applicant to withdraw and resubmit its application to afford the state reviewing agency more time.  In several recent cases, however, the Commission has found that there may be instances where a withdrawal and resubmission of a water quality certification by the applicant does not result in a State’s waiver of Section 401 certification authority.
Continue Reading FERC’s Clean Water Action Section 401 Waiver Analysis Continues to Evolve

On September 9, 2020, FERC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NOPR”) proposing updated regulations that will establish a one-year period for state agencies or other certifying authorities (“Certifying Agencies”) to act on requests for water quality certifications related to sections 3 and 7 of the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”). Under the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), should a Certifying Agency fail to act on such a request within one year, they are deemed to have waived the certification requirements.
Continue Reading FERC Proposes to Modify Water Quality Certification Waiver Period for Natural Gas Projects

In the two months since the failures of the Edenville Dam and the downstream FERC-licensed Sanford Dam (Project No. 2785) in central Michigan, there has been a flurry of correspondence between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission or FERC) and the licensee, including a series of directives and the warning of potential enforcement actions from the Commission, as well as discussion of possible harm to protected species following the dam breaches.
Continue Reading Aftermath of the Michigan Dam Failures: Licensee Delays and Possible ESA Concerns

On Thursday, July 9, 2020 the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, held that a large swath of northeastern Oklahoma, including most of the city of Tulsa, remains part of the Muscogee (Creek) Reservation and, as a result, that the state lacks jurisdiction to prosecute a major crime involving a tribal member within the reservation. Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion for the Majority, confirming the durable principle of tribal sovereignty, despite significant efforts throughout history to dismantle tribal reservations and governments.  Chief Justice Roberts filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Alito and Kavanaugh joined, and in which Justice Thomas joined, except as to one footnote.  Some analyses have raised the possibility that this decision could have a significant impact on taxation and natural resources management in Indian Country throughout the United States, as discussed more fully below.  However, because the direct holding of the Court is quite narrow, the full impact of this decision remains to be seen. 
Continue Reading Supreme Court Determines that Area in Northeastern Oklahoma Constitutes a Reservation

On June 4, 2020, President Trump issued an Executive Order directing federal agencies to take all reasonable measures to speed infrastructure investments and requiring the heads of all federal agencies to identify projects that can be exempted from the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), Endangered Species Act (“ESA”), or the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), pursuant to the emergency procedures within each act, among other requirements.
Continue Reading President Trump Issues Executive Order Directing the Expedition of NEPA Reviews

On May 1, 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (“DOE”) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NOPR”) to update its National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) implementing regulations concerning applications to import to, or export from, liquid natural gas (“LNG”) terminals. In particular, DOE has previously determined that the transportation of natural gas by marine vessels normally does not pose the potential for significant environmental impacts, and accordingly, exports of LNG should be considered a “categorical exclusion” from NEPA review.  Comments are due June 1, 2020. 
Continue Reading DOE Proposes to Limit NEPA Review for LNG Export Applications