Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law

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CEnergy filed suit against Glenmore claiming a denial of its right under the Fourteenth Amendment to substantive due process and a violation of the town's state law obligation to deal in good faith. While CEnergy obtained a conditional use permit from Glenmore to develop a wind farm, the company failed to obtain required building permits in time to take advantage of a lucrative opportunity to sell electricity generated by wind turbines to a Wisconsin power company. The court concluded that the town board's decision to delay action on CEnergy's building permit requests could not have been arbitrary in the constitutional sense. Even if the board's treatment of the building permit applications had been arbitrary in the constitutional sense, CEnergy still would have failed to state a substantive due process claim where a plaintiff who ignores potential state law remedies cannot state a substantive due process claim based on a state-created property right. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "CEnergy-Glenmore Wind Farm #1 v. Town of Glenmore" on Justia Law

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In 1952 an Illinois owner granted a pipeline operator an easement for two pipelines across the parcel. The first was built immediately; the second, if built, had to be within 10 feet of the first. The contract says that any pipeline must be “buried to such depth as will not interfere with such cultivation.” In 2012 the operator notified the owner that it planned to build a second pipeline. The owner filed a quiet-title suit, alleging that either the right to build a second line had expired or that another line would violate the farmability condition. The operator replied that 49 U.S.C. 60104(c), preempts enforcement of the farmability condition. The district court dismissed. A second pipeline has been built 50 feet from the first, using eminent domain to obtain the necessary rights, but the owner anticipates construction of a third pipeline. Vacating the judgment, the Seventh Circuit held that no construction is currently planned and the district court acted prematurely. Until details of a third pipeline’ are known, it is not possible to determine what effect it would have on agricultural use. Only if a third pipeline prevents using the land for agriculture would it be necessary (or prudent) to determine whether section 60104(c) establishes a federal right to destroy more of the land’s value than paid for in 1952. The court stated that it had no reason to think that Illinois would call the 1952 contract an option or apply the Rule Against Perpetuities. View "Knight v. Enbridge Pipelines, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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A Regional Transmission Organization is a voluntary association primarily of utilities that either own electrical transmission lines that comprise a regional electrical grid or generate electricity that is transmitted to the customers in the region. Members of a Regional Transmission Organization and the Illinois Commerce Commission, on behalf of the largest electrical utility in Illinois, (collectively PJM) obtained a remand of an order of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2009. That order allocated costs for certain new high‐voltage network transmission lines that are part of a regional grid that includes the western utilities, but are all located in PJM’s eastern region and primarily benefit that region. Unhappy with the order issued on remand, PJM returned to court. The Seventh Circuit again remanded, acknowledging that the benefits of new facilities to the utilities may be unquantifiable because they depend on the likelihood and magnitude of outages and other contingencies. The order should not shift a grossly disproportionate share of costs to western utilities, given that the projects will confer only future, speculative, and limited benefits to those utilities. View "IL Commerce Comm'n v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm'n" on Justia Law

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ComEd closed its Zion nuclear power plant in 1998. A decommissioned nuclear must be “decommissioned” and not be dangerously radioactive. Decommissioning is supervised by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which requires the operator to finance the decommissioning. The details of the trust fund are left to the state agency, in this case the Illinois Commerce Commission, which (220 ILCS 5/9‐201.5(a)), authorized ComEd to create a trust to be funded by $700 million in charges levied by ComEd on its customers. The Act entitles ComEd customers to the return of money not spent when the decommissioning is completed. In 2001, with the permission of the ICC, ComEd transferred ownership of the Zion plant and the trust assets, to ComEd’s parent, Exelon. Neither Exelon nor its subsidiary is a public utility. Ordinarily the utility (ComEd) would have owned the plant after shutting it down, but transaction costs would be reduced by uniting financing and decommissioning in the same company. After several transfers, plaintiffs brought suit, claiming that the trust funds are being misused in violation of the Illinois Public Utilities Act and common law of trusts. The district court, without deciding whether to certify a class, dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that that none of the plaintiffs are beneficiaries of the trust. View "Pennington v. ZionSolutions LLC" on Justia Law

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In 1983 Bitler leased gas stations to Marathon. The Environmental Protection Agency adopted new regulations so that that underground petroleum tanks and pipes at the gas stations had to be removed, upgraded, or replaced, 40 C.F.R. 280.21(a). In 1992 the parties amended the leases to make Marathon “fully responsible for removing” the tanks and pipes, filling holes created by the removal, complying with all environmental laws, “leav[ing] the Premises in a condition reasonably useful for future commercial use,” and “replac[ing] any asphalt, concrete, or other surface, including landscaping.” Marathon agreed to return the Premises “as nearly as possible in the same condition as it was in prior to such remediation work,” and to be responsible “for any and all liability, losses, damages, costs and expenses,” and to continue paying rent. The properties can be restored as gas stations with above‐ground storage tanks, and may be suitable for other commercial outlets. After completion of the work Bitler sued Marathon, alleging breach of contract and “waste.” The Seventh Circuit vacated to waste regarding Michigan properties, with directions to double those damages. The court affirmed dismissal of some of the contract claims. It would not conform to the reasonable expectations of the parties to limit liability for waste or other misconduct by a tenant simply because a lease had to be extended for an indefinite period to allow a response to unforeseen changes. View "Bitler Inv. Venture II v. Marathon Petroleum Co. LP" on Justia Law

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Sasafrasnet, an authorized distributor of BP products, provided Joseph with notice of its intent to terminate his franchise based on three occasions when Sasafrasnet attempted to debit Joseph’s bank account to pay for fuel deliveries but payment was denied for insufficient funds. The district court denied Joseph a preliminary injunction, finding that Joseph failed to meet his burden for a preliminary injunction under the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act 15 U.S.C. 2805(b)(2)(A)(ii). After a remand, the district court found that two of Joseph’s NSFs should count as “failures” under the PMPA justifying termination, at least for purposes of showing that he was not entitled to preliminary injunctive relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Joseph’s bank account was not adequately funded for the debit on two occasions because Joseph had decided to change banks, circumstances entirely within Joseph’s control. Given Joseph’s history of making late payments in substantial amounts because of insufficient funds (each was more than $22,000), the delinquent payments were not “technical” or “unimportant.” View "Joseph v. Sasafrasnet, LLC" on Justia Law

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Between 1994 and 1999 Commonwealth Edison modified five Illinois coal-fired power plants that had been operating on August 7, 1977, and were, therefore, grandfathered against a permitting requirement applicable to any “major emitting facility” built or substantially modified after that date in parts of the country subject to the rules about prevention of significant deterioration, 42 U.S.C. 7475(a), until the modification. The permit requires installation of “the best available control technology for each pollutant subject to regulation.” Commonwealth Edison did not obtain permits. There was no challenge until 2009, a decade after completion of the modifications. The district court dismissed a challenge as untimely. After finishing the modifications, Commonwealth Edison sold the plants to Midwest. The federal government and Illinois (plaintiffs) argued that the district court allowed corporate restructuring to wipe out liability for ongoing pollution. Midwest and its corporate parent (Edison Mission) filed bankruptcy petitions after the appeal was argued. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Midwest cannot be liable because its predecessor would not have been liable had it owned the plants continuously. Commonwealth Edison needed permits before undertaking the modifications. The court rejected arguments of continuing-violation and continuing-injury. View "United States v. Midwest Generation, LLC" on Justia Law

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The 1987 Public Utilities Act, 220 ILCS 5/8-403.1, was intended to encourage development of power plants that convert solid waste to electricity. Local electric utilities were required to enter into 10-year agreements to purchase power from such plants designated as “qualified” by the Illinois Commerce Commission, at a rate exceeding that established by federal law. The state compensated electric utilities with a tax credit. A qualified facility was obliged to reimburse the state for tax credits its customers had claimed after it had repaid all of its capital costs for development and implementation. Many qualified facilities failed before they repaid their capital costs, so that Illinois never got its tax credit money back. The Act was amended in 2006, to establish a moratorium on new Qualified Facilities, provide additional grounds for disqualifying facilities from the subsidy, and expand the conditions that trigger a facility’s liability to repay electric utilities’ tax credits. The district court held that the amendment cannot be applied retroactively. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The amendment does not clearly indicate that the new repayment conditions apply to monies received prior to the amendment and must be construed prospectively. View "Illinois v. Chiplease, Inc." on Justia Law

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Control of most of the U.S. electrical grid is divided among Regional Transmission Organizations, voluntary associations of utilities that own interconnected transmission lines. Power plants and other electrical companies involved with the regional grid can also be RTO members. An RTO sought approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to impose a tariff on its members to pay for construction of new high-voltage power lines that will primarily transmit electricity generated by remote wind farms. Every state in the region, except Kentucky, encourages or mandates that utilities obtain a percentage of their electricity supply from renewable sources. The cost of the project is to be shared by utilities drawing power from the grid according to each utility’s share of the region’s total wholesale consumption of electricity. The RTO previously allocated the cost of expanding or upgrading the grid to utilities nearest a proposed transmission line, on the theory that they would get the most benefit. FERC approved the rate design and pilot projects. The RTO negotiated a rate with another RTO to share the costs of some upgrades with mutual benefits. Members of the RTO challenged the approval and the agreement and some announced their departure from the RTO. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the orders, but dismissed as premature the claims of departing members concerning their liability and remanded with respect to export pricing in connection with the agreement. View "Am. Mun. Power, Inc. v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Under the Federal Mine Safety & Health Act of 1977, the Secretary of Labor protects the health and safety of miners, acting through the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Regulations under the Act require mine operators to report all mine-related injuries and illnesses suffered by employees. In 2010, MSHA acted on a new and broader interpretation and informed 39 mine operators that they would be required to permit MSHA inspectors to review employee medical and personnel records during inspections. Two operators refused to provide the records. MSHA issued citations and imposed penalties. An ALJ and the Review Commission found that the demands and enforcement were lawful under 30 U.S.C. 813(h) and 30 C.F.R. 50.41. Mine employees intervened to raise personal privacy challenges. The Seventh Circuit denied a petition for review, rejecting arguments that MSHA does not have authority for the requirement; that 30 C.F.R. 50.41 is not a reasonable interpretation of the Act and was not properly promulgated; that the requirement infringes operators’ Fourth Amendment right not to be searched without a warrant; that the demands violate the miners’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights in their medical records; and that penalties imposed for noncompliance violate the operators’ Fifth Amendment due process rights. View "Bickett v. Fed. Mine Safety & Review Comm'n" on Justia Law