FERC, CFTC, and State Energy Law Developments

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.

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 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. 

For more detail, read our LawFlash.

Under a notice of proposed rulemaking to be released today, December 21, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is proposing to direct the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to revise the Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) reliability standards to require electric utilities to report all cyberattacks on the electric security perimeters surrounding their key electric infrastructure as well as the associated electronic access control and monitoring devices that protect those perimeters.

Today, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Office of Enforcement (OE) issued its 2017 Report on Enforcement. The report provides a review of OE’s activities during fiscal year 2017, which begins October 1 and ends September 30 annually, revealing likely areas of focus for FERC enforcement in the coming year.

The report indicates that even though FERC lacked a quorum for much of 2017, OE continued to focus on the same areas of market and operational risk that have traditionally captured its attention, which include (i) fraud and market manipulation; (ii) anticompetitive conduct; (iii) conduct that threatens transparency in regulated markets; and (iv) serious violations of mandatory reliability standards. OE does not anticipate that its priorities will change for fiscal year 2018. FERC also addresses its continued litigation of contested cases in federal courts. Additionally, similar to fiscal year 2016, the report indicates that the vast majority of alleged violations that come to OE’s attention are addressed informally through corrective actions voluntarily implemented by the subject of the investigation, without the need for a formal settlement. But this year, OE provides detailed examples of surveillance inquiries initiated by its Division of Analytics and Surveillance that are closed without referral to the US Department of Justice. Details on the topics in the 2017 Enforcement Report will be further described in a future LawFlash that will be posted as part of Morgan Lewis’s Power & Pipes energy law web postings. These issues will also be discussed in further detail during an upcoming webinar hosted by Morgan Lewis linked below.

2017 Year in Review: FERC Enforcement Webinar >>

On September 12, 2017, FERC and NERC released a joint statement and guidance encouraging ongoing interutility cooperation among all utilities in response to Hurricane Irma, which ravaged areas in Florida and Georgia, neighboring states, Puerto Rico, and US territories in the Caribbean. The statement emphasized that the utility response to Hurricane Irma will likely be among the largest industry restoration efforts in US history. In it, FERC and NERC encourage utilities to lend personnel skilled in vegetation management to those utilities in need as a result of the hurricane.

Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling that imposed a five-year statute of limitations period in which disgorgement could be ordered by an administrative agency penalizing regulatory violations. Although the Court’s decision in Kokesh v. SEC arose in the context of an enforcement action initiated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Court’s decision may well be applied to disgorgement orders issued by either the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) or the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). However, additional litigation may be required to ensure that the disgorgement boundaries set forth by the Court in Kokesh are equally applied to FERC and CFTC enforcement actions seeking disgorgement from an energy market participant.

This week, FERC submitted its annual financial report to the US Congress. Although part of the regular slate of voluminous reports sent up to Capitol Hill each year, FERC’s report often includes certain nuggets of information useful to the regulated community.

Buried in the report this year was a reminder that FERC—for the first time—has adjusted the civil monetary penalties that it may administer in response to violations of its rules.

As of July 16, 2016, the following civil monetary penalties apply:

  • $1,193,970 per violation, per day for violations of any provision of Part II of the Federal Power Act (FPA) or FERC’s regulations and orders thereunder, including the electric market manipulation provisions of the FPA and mandatory reliability standards.
  • $1,193,970 per violation, per day for violations of the Natural Gas Act or FERC’s implementing regulations and orders thereunder, including the natural gas market manipulation provisions.
  • $1,193,970 per violation, per day for violations of the Natural Gas Policy Act or FERC’s implementing regulations and orders thereunder.

FERC’s various organic statutes contain a variety of other miscellaneous civil penalty provisions as well, all of which were raised.

These adjustments were formally implemented through Order No. 826 in response to the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015 and were the first modifications to the significant civil penalty authority given to FERC in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Under the law, FERC will be required to update its monetary penalty amounts every January 15.

On November 17, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Office of Enforcement (OE) issued its 2016 Report on Enforcement. The report provides a review of OE’s activities during fiscal year 2016, revealing likely areas of focus for FERC enforcement in the coming year.

The report indicates OE’s continued focus on the same areas of market and operational risk that have traditionally captured its attention, although the targets of those investigations are contesting OE’s claims in the court system. The report also indicates that the vast majority of alleged violations that come to OE’s attention are addressed informally through corrective actions voluntarily implemented by the subject of the investigation, without the need for a formal settlement.

Read more about the FERC’s 2016 Report on Enforcement in our recent LawFlash. The report as well as accompanying FERC staff white papers that provide insight into OE’s views on emerging trends also will be discussed in further detail during an upcoming webinar hosted by Morgan Lewis