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In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the US Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) chief administrative law judge (ALJ) issued an administrative order on March 19 clarifying the status of matters pending before the DOL’s Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ). The administrative order covers the following:

OALJ Hearings Suspended

Effective March 23, OALJ is suspending all hearings, including telephonic hearings, until May 15. Parties may petition the presiding ALJ to conduct a telephonic hearing but must demonstrate compelling circumstances. This suspension does not apply to cases in which the parties have jointly agreed to a decision on the record based on stipulated facts or a stipulated record.

Functioning critical infrastructure is crucial during the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency for public health and safety reasons. And as noted in the Coronavirus Guidelines for America issued on March 16, US President Donald Trump has recommended that workers in critical infrastructure industries have a “special responsibility” to maintain normal work schedules. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on March 19 issued guidance on defining the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce. That guidance explicitly discusses workers in the nuclear and electric industries.

Our insurance litigation colleagues have prepared a LawFlash providing guidance on protecting insurance assets, which may help mitigate financial losses due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Read the LawFlash.

FERC and NERC issued a joint notice on Wednesday providing compliance flexibility on certain key reliability standard requirements during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Although this guidance can allow utilities to avoid findings of noncompliance for certain requirements where timely compliance activities could be difficult due to personnel shortages and other limitations, this is not a blanket waiver. Instead, utilities must provide written notices of their intent to use this guidance. The content of those notices must be drafted carefully as they will be necessary to demonstrate compliance in future reviews.

The new flexibility is as follows:

  • Due to the limited availability of NERC-certified operators, if a utility cannot provide sufficient certified operators to comply with PER-003 due to COVID-19, the use of noncertified operators is permitted through the end of 2020. In order to take advantage of this flexibility, utilities will need to notify their Regional Entities and Reliability Coordinators (ISO-NE and NYISO). Training requirements, such as those in PER-005, continue to apply.
  • Because of the resource limitations during this time period, periodic actions required by the reliability standards that must occur between March 1, 2020, and July 31, 2020, can be missed on a case-by-case basis if the activities cannot be performed due to COVID-19. To use this flexibility, utilities will need to notify their regional entities of the specific actions that will be missed. These periodic requirements exist in both the Operating & Planning standards (such as protection system maintenance and testing) and the Critical Infrastructure Protection standards (such as patching and vulnerability assessments).

Our colleagues in the antitrust practice have prepared a LawFlash addressing the extent to which the private sector can coordinate its responses to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic consistent with the antitrust laws.

Read the full LawFlash >>

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