Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
Algonquin Gas Transmission v. Weymouth Conservation Commission
The First Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court ruling that the Town of Weymouth’s local ordinance, as applied to a project in which Algonquin Gas Transmission, LLC sought to build a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, was preempted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) issuance of a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) authorizing construction of the Weymouth Compressor Station.Algonquin received a CPCN from FERC authorizing the project, but that certificate was conditioned upon the receipt of a consistency determination from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts pursuant to the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA). To complete its CZMA review the Commonwealth required Algonquin to furnish a permit from Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, which, in turn, refused to issue such a permit until the Town of Weymouth approved the project under its local ordinance. Wemouth denied Algonquin’s permit applications. Algonquin ultimately commenced this action against Weymouth arguing that the local ordinance, as it applied to the compressor station, was preempted under federal law. The district court granted summary judgment for Algonquin. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that application of Weymouth’s ordinance to the proposed compressor station was foreclosed by federal law under the theory of conflict preemption. View "Algonquin Gas Transmission v. Weymouth Conservation Commission" on Justia Law
Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Inc. v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued to Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, LLC a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a proposed project. The certificate was subject to filing of proof that Tennessee Gas received all applicable authorizations required under federal law. Tennessee Gas subsequently received from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) conditional certification for its proposed project. Petitioners filed a notice of claim for adjudicatory hearing to appeal the conditional certification. Tennessee Gas opposed the request for a hearing, arguing that once the agency had issued a conditional water quality certification, any further review must be pursued through a petition to the First Circuit. Tennessee Gas then filed suit in the District of Massachusetts seeking to bar MassDEP from engaging in further review. Petitioners filed this petition to preserve review of the conditional certification but asked the Court to reject their petition on the grounds that the Court’s review was premature until MassDEP completed its adjudicatory process. The First Circuit dismissed the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because there was no order or action of MassDEP in connection with Tennessee Gas’s application for a water quality certification that the Court could review under 15 U.S.C. 717r(d)(1). View "Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Inc. v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co." on Justia Law
Town of Barnstable v. O’Connor
Since 2001, Cape Wind Associates, LLC has attempted to acquire the necessary permits and approvals for a wind power generation facility in Nantucket Sound. Under a settlement agreement, NSTAR Electric Company agreed to purchase one-quarter of Cape Wind’s output. The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) approved the contract. Plaintiffs - the Town of Barnstable, a non-profit advocacy group, and businesses and individuals residing near the proposed facility - filed this action in federal district court seeing an injunction and a declaratory judgment against officials of the DPU, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, Cape Wind, and NSTAR. The district court dismissed the complaint, determining that the Eleventh Amendment barred the assertion of federal court jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ claims. The First Circuit vacated the judgment of dismissal and remanded, holding (1) the district court erred in concluding that Plaintiffs’ claims fell outside the Ex parte Young exception to the Eleventh Amendment; and (2) the case was not moot or unripe. View "Town of Barnstable v. O'Connor" on Justia Law
Massachusetts v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Comm’n
The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts submitted an environmental impact statement (EIS) with its relicensing application in 2006. Before relicensing occurred, an earthquake and tsunami occurred off the coast of Japan, which hit the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Less than three months later, Massachusetts moved to admit a contention and to reopen the Pilgrim record, arguing that Fukushima revealed new and significant information that the environmental impact analysis needed to address. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board denied Massachusetts's motion. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) denied the Commonwealth's petition for review, rejecting the Commonwealth's claims that the EIS was inadequate in light of the damage to Fukushima. The Commonwealth also petitioned for review from the NRC's vote to renew the license of the Pilgrim station. The First Circuit Court of Appeals denied the petition for review, holding that the NRC did not act arbitrarily or capriciously by (1) failing to require supplementation of the EIS in light of Fukushima; and (2) declining to hear Massachusetts' rulemaking petition and to complete all the post-Fukushima review before granting the license. View "Massachusetts v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Comm'n" on Justia Law
Beyond Nuclear v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Comm’n
NextEra Energy Seabrook, LLC, which operated a nuclear power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire, applied to renew its operating license. NextEra submitted a required environmental report that concluded that offshore wind electric generation was not a reasonable alternative to the extended licensing of Seabrook. Several environmental groups (collectively, Petitioners) questioned and sought a hearing on NextEra's environmental report. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board admitted the contention, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) denied the admission of the contention, which resulted in Petitioners not being entitled to have a hearing on the merits about their contention that generation of electricity from offshore wind was a reasonable alternative source of baseload energy to the relicensing of Seabrook. The First Circuit Court of Appeals denied Petitioners' petition for review, holding (1) the NRC did not misapply case law interpreting the National Environmental Policy Act in formulating its contention-admissibility standard; and (2) NRC's conclusion that the contention was inadmissible was not arbitrary or capricious, and there was no basis in law to set it aside. View "Beyond Nuclear v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Comm'n" on Justia Law
L.S. Starrett Co. v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm’n
After a generator failed, plaintiff ordered a replacement, believing that no permit was required for changes to its hydroelectric power facility, which is located on plaintiff's property on a non-navigable Massachusetts river. The facility consists of an 87-acre-foot reservoir, a 20-foot-high, 127-foot-long concrete gravity dam, two powerhouses, and appurtenant facilities. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concluded that plaintiff required a license under the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 817(1). The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the facility is in a stream that is subject to Commerce Clause jurisdiction, the proposed changes will constitute "post-1935 construction" under the Act, and the proposed changes will affect interstate commerce. The Commission's interpretation of "construction" as encompassing the work at issue was reasonable and substantial evidence supports a finding that small hydroelectric plants have a cumulative impact on interstate commerce.
Santiago-Sepulveda v. Esso Std. Oil Co., Inc.
Franchisees, operating gas stations in Puerto Rico, alleged violations of the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act (PMPA), 15 U.S.C. 2801, based on the Esso's plan to leave the market and terminate their contracts. Esso sold its assets to Total and most of the franchisees eventually contracted with Total. The district court found some of the terms of the Total franchise contract invalid, but severable, and denied injunctive relief and damages against Esso. The First Circuit affirmed, first holding that PMPA does not require that terms offered by a substitute franchisor be identical for each franchisee and that there was no evidence that Total acted other than in good faith or intended that its offers would be rejected. That Total's franchise contract, consisting of more than 100 pages, contained five provisions found partially invalid under state law, did not render it "per se" in violation of PMPA.