FERC, CFTC, and State Energy Law Developments

Recent statements by the Antitrust Division at the US Department of Justice (DOJ) confirm that the DOJ is continuing to focus on “no-poaching” and wage-fixing agreements with more enforcement actions expected to be announced in the near future. Recent criminal investigations target the healthcare industry, but all employers should be aware of the application of antitrust laws to human-resource decisions.

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The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the US federal agency tasked with coordinating and overseeing the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), has announced its intention to update the CEQ’s longstanding NEPA-implementing regulations. Those regulations establish the core process used by agencies across the federal government to satisfy their NEPA obligations. According to the CEQ’s statement in the semiannual Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, “[w]hile CEQ has issued memoranda and guidance documents over the years, CEQ believes it is appropriate at this time to consider updating the implementing regulations.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a final rule revising the Large Generator Interconnection Procedures and Large Generator Interconnection Agreement. The changes are intended to provide increased certainty and additional interconnection service options to generation interconnection customers, while also enhancing the information available for interconnection decisionmaking. Transmission providers will be required to submit compliance filings. Read the full LawFlash.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is seeking stakeholder comments through a Notice of Inquiry as it contemplates updating its policy statement on how FERC-jurisdictional facilities are reviewed and authorized, a move that could revamp the FERC’s 19-year-old policy statement on its certification of new natural gas transportation facilities.

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The heads of 12 federal agencies signed an MOU on April 9 committing to “a more predictable, transparent and timely Federal review and authorization process for delivering major infrastructure projects.” The signatory agencies, all of which have responsibilities to review or authorize infrastructure projects, agreed to take certain steps to create a more coordinated and streamlined federal environmental review process. Although the commitments in the MOU are voluntary and not mandated by statute, adherence to them could shorten the period of time required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to perform National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews.

Background

 

President Donald Trump signed Executive Order (EO) 13807 (“Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects”) in August 2017. This EO was intended to speed up the environmental reviews required for major infrastructure projects by mandating additional coordination and planning activities among various federal agencies. The EO defines “major infrastructure project” as “an infrastructure project for which multiple authorizations by Federal agencies will be required to proceed with construction, the lead Federal agency has determined that it will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under [NEPA] . . . and the project sponsor has identified the reasonable availability of funds sufficient to complete the project.”

Revised Reliability Standard clarifies obligations for electronic access controls at less critical assets and places more focus on risks posed by certain portable electronic devices.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (the Commission) issued a final rule (Order No. 843) on April 19, approving proposed reliability standard CIP-003-7. The currently-effective version of the standard, CIP-003-6, contains the cybersecurity requirements applicable to low impact BES Cyber Systems. The low impact category covers the BES Cyber Systems associated with less critical substations, generators, and other BES facilities. The final rule adopts NERC’s proposed reliability standard CIP-003-7, which revises the existing standard by clarifying a utility’s obligations for implementing electronic access controls for low impact BES Cyber Systems, introduces security requirements for certain portable devices, and requires utilities to have a policy for reliability-related emergencies known as CIP Exceptional Circumstances that involve low impact BES Cyber Systems.

The renewable energy industry, now designated as a technology and innovation-related area of special concern to the protection of the US industrial and scientific base, is one of seven sectors that the United States Trade Representative recently identified as being of significant national security concern.

Foreign acquisitions and investments in the renewable energy industry, including wind, solar, and hydroelectric power, have been targeted for additional scrutiny by the Trump administration in the voluminous report issued March 22 by the White House Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). The USTR’s primary concern in its investigation was with acquisitions and investments related to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation in seven industry sectors that it specifically identified as being of significant national security concern. Renewable energy is one of the seven sectors highlighted for increased scrutiny, through expanded reviews of certain types of deals by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). While the USTR report focused on Chinese acquisitions and investments, the identification of renewable energy as one of the seven main industry sectors of concern means that acquisitions and investments by entities in other foreign nations may also be subject to heightened scrutiny by CFIUS. This Morgan Lewis LawFlash by our CFIUS Group summarizes the USTR report and provides links to the report and to the Presidential Memorandum also issued March 22, directing certain actions in furtherance of the USTR’s recommendations.

On the heels of the news reports describing cyberattacks on the energy sector that have continued to accumulate over the last few years, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a technical alert on March 15 describing ongoing attacks on critical infrastructure by hackers associated with the Russian government. The alert described the cyberattacks as part of a “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors” that targeted the energy sector networks, as well as computer systems used by entities in the nuclear, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors. The alert is the latest in a string of reported cyberattacks on industrial control systems (ICS) in recent years, and can only serve to ratchet up the regulatory pressure on these industries to demonstrate their resilience in the face of these well-organized attacks.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) filed a Notice of Penalty summarizing an agreement by an unidentified electric utility to pay a $2.7 million penalty in connection with self-reported violations of the Critical Infrastructure Protection reliability standards related to sensitive data exposure by a vendor. Although the utility did not directly cause the improper data handling—and indeed the violation resulted from vendor noncompliance with utility policies—the Western Electricity Coordinating Council nevertheless concluded that the utility failed to adequately implement its information protection program by not preventing or immediately detecting the vendor’s actions and submitted the settlement to NERC. 

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