FERC, CFTC, and State Energy Law Developments

The August 2018 enactment of the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA) came after more than two years of debate over the appropriate scope of jurisdiction for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Much has already been written about FIRRMA and its potentially ambitious reach, as well as about the interest by certain parties, including members of Congress, to keep CFIUS away from some transactions. The result was a law that amended a number of provisions defining CFIUS jurisdiction, both expanding and narrowing key parts of the Committee’s reach. The pilot program is focused on certain specific types of transactions, without regard to the country of the acquiring entity, that CFIUS can review under FIRRMA, including transactions involving “Nuclear Electric Power Generation;” “Petrochemical Manufacturing;” “Power, Distribution and Specialty Transformer Manufacturing;” “Storage Battery Manufacturing;” and “Turbine and Turbine Generator Set Units Manufacturing.”

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American national security officials believe that spies working on behalf of an adversarial nation-state successfully carried out an attack against US companies by compromising a key hardware supply chain, according to a report issued October 4 by Bloomberg Businessweek. The report details how the attackers implemented a “seeding” attack by installing tiny, malicious microchips on motherboards—a type of computer circuit board that houses processing and other essential components—that were assembled in Chinese factories. The exploit apparently had a ripple effect, as the compromised motherboards were ultimately installed in commercial servers that are widely distributed in the United States. One official estimates that the attack affected almost 30 companies, including a major bank and government contractors, and may have enabled the attackers to communicate with or infiltrate the sabotaged servers.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) on September 18 requested Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval of a new Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) Reliability Standard, CIP-012-1. The proposed standard would require electric utilities with defined “Control Centers” to implement controls that protect sensitive data communicated between any applicable control centers. Driving the standard is a concern that these control centers can only perform their real-time reliability functions if they can receive and transmit sensitive operational data in a secure manner.

An amendment to FERC’s M&A statute, Section 203 of the Federal Power Act, was signed into law on September 28. Public Law 115-247 (PL 115-347 or the amendment) makes a minor but helpful change to one provision of FPA Section 203 by immunizing one particular class of transactions from pre-consummation FERC M&A application and approval requirements.

Section 203’s sweep is broad; essentially any direct or indirect “disposition” of voting control over any FERC-jurisdictional “public utility” (almost every US generating company, wholesale power marketer, transmission provider, and traditional franchised utility) requires pre-consummation Section 203 authorization. Only selected types of transactions are exempt, usually those involving smaller “qualifying facility” generators and purely retail businesses and facilities. Some classes of “holding companies” of electric power businesses and assets are also subject to Section 203’s requirements. Numerous technically defined classes of transactions, such as many internal reorganizations, are blanket-authorized under FERC regulations and require no Section 203 applications or orders.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced on September 28 that it has created an Insider Trading & Information Protection Task Force. The new task force is responsible for identifying and charging those who engage in insider trading or otherwise improperly use confidential information in connection with any market regulated by the CFTC. The task force is composed of members from the CFTC’s offices in Chicago, Kansas City, New York, and Washington, DC.

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on September 27 affirmed a decision of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissing a complaint seeking to invalidate New York’s Zero Emissions Credit (ZEC) program. This decision comes on the heels of a Seventh Circuit decision affirming the validity of a similar ZEC program in Illinois. In its opinion, the Second Circuit noted that its conclusions accorded with the Seventh Circuit’s decision, which we wrote about in an earlier post. Read more.

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on September 13 affirmed a decision of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois that dismissed two complaints seeking to invalidate the Illinois Zero Emission Credits (ZEC) program.

Read more about the decision on Up & Atom.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) released a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on August 31 to improve coordination throughout the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) permit application process for FERC-jurisdictional LNG facilities. The MOU describes FERC and PHMSA’s respective roles and responsibilities concerning siting, construction, and operation of LNG facilities pursuant to currently applicable statutory and regulatory law, and establishes a new coordination framework to streamline the approval process for those facilities. The agencies’ coordination has already helped streamline the environmental review schedules for 12 LNG export terminal applications pending before FERC. Those updated schedules were also released on August 31. The MOU supersedes and provides an updated and more concrete coordination framework than the prior iteration of the agreement between the two agencies that was signed in 1985.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule on August 21. The proposed rule would replace the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, establishing alternative guidelines for states to develop plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired electric power plants. The ACE rule departs from the Clean Power Plan, among other ways, by removing incentives for natural gas and renewable energy use, limiting averaging and trading in state plans, giving states more flexibility in creating plans, slowing down state plan development and submission schedules, and proposing a new industry friendly test for the New Source Review permitting process. Overall, EPA has projected that the ACE rule will result in similar carbon dioxide emissions reductions in comparison to the Clean Power Plan.

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