In a per curiam decision on October 3, 2023, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed that the Federal Power Act prevents tort suits against the United States relating to damage caused by dams that are licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). That is, liability for any injuries or damages caused by any dam licensed by FERC is solely the responsibility of the licensee, and liability cannot flow to the United States, even after dam failures.
FERC, CFTC, and State Energy Law Developments
FERC recently held a Staff-led technical conference to discuss whether, and if so, how, the Commission should require additional financial assurance mechanisms in the licenses and other authorizations it issues for hydroelectric projects, to ensure that licensees have the capability to carry out license requirements and, particularly, to maintain their projects in safe condition. The feedback received during the conference, as well as the comments to be filed, will likely shape the ultimate FERC rule on financial assurance requirements currently under consideration.
As an example of its renewed focus on dam safety, FERC recently issued an order assessing a $600,000 civil penalty to Ampersand Cranberry Lake Hydro LLC for a violation of Ampersand’s hydro license for the 500 kW Cranberry Lake Project No. 9658. The violation is related to Ampersand’s failure to complete known dam safety repairs over multiple years and its loss of property rights needed for the Cranberry Lake Project, located on the Oswegatchie River in St. Lawrence County, New York.
FERC recently issued an order to show cause and notice of proposed penalty to Ampersand Cranberry Lake Hydro LLC for a violation of Ampersand’s hydro license for the Cranberry Lake Project No. 9658 (Cranberry Lake Project). FERC ordered Ampersand to show cause as to why it should not be found to have violated Article 5 of the project license by failing to retain possession of all project property covered by the license, and to show cause as to why it should not be assessed a civil penalty of $600,000 for that violation.
FERC has issued a notice of inquiry inviting comments on potential changes to its regulations requiring financial assurance measures in licenses and other authorizations for hydroelectric projects.
A notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) titled, “Update to the Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act,” published today by the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), is likely to have far-reaching effects for the energy and public infrastructure sectors, and could facilitate more efficient implementation of energy production/generation projects for all major energy sources (i.e., renewable, fossil, nuclear, and hydroelectric sources) as well as transportation projects.
FERC issued guidance on October 17, 2019, that may significantly aid hydroelectric developers in planning and siting potential projects.
For the first time, FERC has found that significant investments in an existing licensed hydroelectric facility by a licensee will be considered when establishing the license term in a relicensing proceeding, potentially aiding the licensee in obtaining a longer license term.
The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published draft guidance on June 26 to address how agencies implementing environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) should consider greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The new guidance would replace the Obama administration’s 2016 guidance, which has been on hold since April 5, 2017, pending “further consideration” pursuant to Executive Order 13783, Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.