E&E News , an energy and environmental policy publication from Politico Pro, quoted McGuireWoods associate Carrie Mobley in a May 25, 2022, article that examines the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s increased enforcement of pipeline agreements and industry backlash against the process.
Although FERC’s enforcement authority was expanded in 2005, the agency generally didn’t extend its oversight to pipeline violations. But that has begun to change, E&E News reported, particularly with the appointment of FERC chair Richard Glick in 2021.
An uptick in cases opened by the regulator’s Office of Enforcement included a new focus on pipelines, investigating whether developers violated the terms and conditions of FERC-issued permits in pipeline construction and operation. The agency is pursuing record-setting fines for the alleged violations.
“We’ve seen a lot of interest that maybe wasn’t previously taken in pipeline cases,” said Mobley, an energy-focused regulatory and compliance associate in Washington, D.C. The cases “are indicating that the commission is interested in ensuring compliance and is willing to be a little bit creative in their approach.”
However, the pipeline companies targeted in these cases are challenging the FERC enforcement process — sometimes referencing that “creative” approach. If successful, such suits could make it more difficult for the commission to penalize companies for spills, groundwater contamination and property damage.
In one legal challenge, a pipeline company calls FERC’s process unfair and argues that violations should be argued in federal court rather than before an agency administrative law judge. In another, a company claims FERC overstepped its authority in attempting to determine the cost of land restoration for property owners affected by pipeline construction. Mobley called this move unique.
“The outcome of that court case could establish precedent [about] whether the commission can continue to take that sort of action with similar disputes,” she told E&E News.
With D.C. office managing partner Todd Mullins, leader of the firm’s energy enforcement group, Mobley recently co-authored “FERC’s New Infrastructure and Environmental Impacts Priority — What to Expect in Enforcement Cases” for McGuireWoods’ Subject to Inquiry blog.