Power, Oil, Gas, and Minerals

The newly published Energy White Paper establishes a domestic trading scheme and sets out plans to clean out energy. 

By Paul A. Davies and Michael D. Green

On 14 December 2020, the UK Government published its Energy White Paper (the Paper). The Paper builds on previous green economy plans, setting them “in a long-term strategic vision, […] consistent with net zero emissions by 2050”.

The Paper further details ambitions unveiled by the Prime Minister in mid-November, in his Ten Point Plan. Moreover, the Paper sheds more light on previously established initiatives, such as the UK Emissions Trading Scheme, previously set into law through the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme Order 2020.

California appeals court decision increases the potential for CEQA challenges to power plant projects under the CEC’s jurisdiction.

By Marc T. Campopiano, Charles C. Read, and Kevin A. Homrighausen

In Communities for a Better Environment v. Energy Resources Conservation & Development Commission, the California First District Court of Appeal recently held that the State Legislature violated the California Constitution by limiting the scope of judicial review for California Energy Commission (CEC) decisions involving power plant siting to the California Supreme Court. Although the California Constitution gives the Legislature express authority to limit the scope of judicial review for California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) decisions, the court found there is no similar authority regarding appeals of CEC decisions.

The Supreme Court has rarely, if ever, agreed to hear CEQA challenges of CEC power plant decisions. Now, developers seeking to construct new power plants or modify existing power plants under the CEC’s jurisdiction may see an increase in legal challenges — including California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) challenges — in California’s trial courts. As a result, CEQA challenges to power plants may closely resemble other land use challenges in the state.

Wildfires, ride-sharing, community choice aggregation, and more bring increased regulatory risk.

By Marc T. Campopiano, Charles C. Read, and Brian F. McCall

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has tremendous influence on public utility regulation in California and beyond. The CPUC has the biggest staff of any state utilities commission and has issued fines and penalties well in excess of US$2 billion. The CPUC has been very active with new rulemakings and proceedings that will impact utilities and a range of industries. Because of the CPUC’s outsize influence, many of these new regulatory developments may well be adopted by public utilities or public service commissions in other states. Below are summaries of five key developments at the CPUC.

The proposed federal permitting regime includes some surprising provisions, including no permit expiration and no proposed application deadline for most units.

By Claudia M. O’Brien and Stacey L. VanBelleghem

On December 19, 2019, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposed rule to establish a federal permitting program under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) for the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR), also known as coal ash, in surface impoundments and landfills. EPA’s 2015 CCR rule established self-implementing requirements for the management of CCR. In 2016, Congress passed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which authorized states to submit for EPA approval state CCR permit programs to implement the federal CCR rule requirements. The WIIN Act also required EPA to implement a federal CCR permit program in Indian country and in states that do not have an approved permitting program.

The proposed rule, titled Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System: Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities; Federal CCR Permit Program (Proposed CCR Permitting Rule), would establish this federal permitting backstop.

In a significant and potentially precedent-setting action, EPA terminates the Clean Power Plan, narrows the scope of required controls to the regulated unit, and axes previously available compliance options.

By Stacey L. VanBelleghem and Robert A. Wyman

On June 19, 2019, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule to replace the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). Both rules would regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing electric generating units (EGUs) pursuant to Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act (CAA).[i] EPA made few changes from its 2018 proposal (summarized in this prior Latham post), with the notable exception of EPA’s decision to proceed with a separate rulemaking to finalize its proposed revisions to New Source Review (NSR) rules for power plants.

EPA Rulemakings

EPA’s recent notice announcing the final ACE Rule identifies three actions, which EPA characterizes as “separate and distinct rulemakings.”

ECJ ruling provides EU Member States more flexibility in designing the promotion of renewable energies.

By Jörn Kassow, Alexander Wilhelm, and Apostolos Papadimitriou 

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) recently ruled that the German Renewable Energy Act of 2012 (Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz – EEG 2012) did not constitute State aid (C-405/16 P). The ECJ found that the support mechanism for renewable energies in practice financed by electricity consumers paying the so-called “EEG surcharge”, and the reductions for electricity-intensive companies related to the EEG surcharge, do not constitute State aid because they do not involve State resources.

The ECJ ruling on 28 March annulled a November 2014 decision by the European Commission (EC) that approved the German support mechanism for renewable energies as compatible State aid, and for the most part the reduction of the EEG surcharge for electricity-intensive undertakings. However, in that decision the EC had also ordered Germany to recover a limited part of the reductions that was deemed incompatible.

EU will tax manufacturers for excess emissions and collect individual consumption data from vehicles in order to meet climate change goals.

By Jörn Kassow and Patrick Braasch

The EU is setting stricter CO2 emission standards for new passenger cars and light commercial vehicles (LCVs). A new regulation on CO2 emission standards (Regulation (EU) No 2019/631), replacing the past regulations (EC) No 443/2009 and (EU) No 510/2011, was published in the Official Journal on 25 April 2019 and will enter into force with effect from 1 January 2020. From 2025 onwards, the average CO2 emissions of new passenger cars and LCVs must be reduced by 15% compared to 2021 levels. By 2030, the average emissions must be reduced by 37.5% for passenger cars and 31% for LCVs, in each case compared to 2021 levels.

These average emissions targets apply to each manufacturer’s (or group of connected manufacturers’) EU-wide fleet of new passenger cars and LCVs. The regulation will reward manufacturers with less stringent CO2 targets if they meet benchmarks regarding their respective fleet’s share of zero- and low-emission vehicles (2025: 15% for both passenger cars and LCVs, 2030: 35% for passenger cars and 30% for LCVs). Furthermore, manufacturers may enter into pooling arrangements (subject to competition law restrictions) for meeting their emissions targets. These arrangements will allow leaders in zero- and low-emission vehicles to capitalise on their below-average emissions by pooling with, and effectively selling their emissions savings to, manufacturers of more traditional, i.e., CO2-intensive passenger cars and LCVs. Manufacturers can also apply to the Commission for consideration of CO2 savings achieved through the use of innovative technologies. The Commission may grant temporary derogations from their specific emissions targets to certain niche manufacturers.

The Green Industry Guidance Catalogue attempts to provide consistent nationwide guidelines for green industries and projects.

By Paul A. Davies and R. Andrew Westgate

Background

On 6 March 2019, seven Chinese regulatory agencies issued the Green Industry Guidance Catalogue (the Catalogue) listing “green industries” that are eligible for funding with green bonds. The seven agencies include the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, The People’s Bank of China, and the National Energy Board.

China’s environmental revolution not only entails implementing a robust, modern policy framework, but also a significant rearrangement of the economy itself — rendering the revolution a priority for both ecological and economic development reasons. As a result, in recent years, all provinces and directly-administered municipalities within China and departments within the Chinese government have introduced policies and measures to promote green industries. However, these policies and measures have been hampered by a lack of uniformity and the application of differing standards in different regions.

The Coal Commission’s phase-out proposal includes a €40 billion federal spending package for affected states.

By Jörn Kassow and Patrick Braasch

A German government-appointed body, known colloquially as the “Coal Commission”, has agreed to end coal-fired power generation by 2038. In an effort to meet Germany’s climate goals under the Paris Agreement, the Coal Commission proposes to gradually reduce Germany’s current coal power capacity of 42.6 GW to 30 GW by 2022 and 17 GW in 2030. A review is scheduled in 2032 to decide whether to bring forward the final phase-out from 2038 to 2035.

Coal-burning provided for 40% of Germany’s power mix in 2017, which is well above the EU-28 average of 21% in 2016, and was exceeded only by Bulgaria (45%), Greece (46%), the Czech Republic (54%), and Poland (81%). Coal-fired power plants accounted for 28% of Germany’s total CO2 emissions in 2016, while generating 70% of the energy sector’s total emissions in the same year. Germany will also close its last nuclear plants in 2022, which, as of 2017, still provided for 12% of the power mix. All considered, the country will see a fundamental change in its energy production landscape in the coming years.

EPA’s proposed standards have important implications, even though few coal plants are slated for development.

By Joel C. Beauvais and Stacey L. VanBelleghem

Background

On December 6, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed a proposed rule to establish new source performance standards (NSPS) under Clean Air Act Section 111(b) for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new, reconstructed, and modified power plants. The proposal would replace the existing Obama-era standards — which were based on applying partial carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology for new coal-fired plants — with significantly less stringent requirements. EPA’s proposal has several important implications for the power industry and other emitting sectors, even though few, if any, new coal plants are expected to be built in the United States in the near future.

EPA’s Current and Proposed CO2 Standards: A Comparison

EPA’s proposal would establish new emission limits, based on the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER) identified by the agency, for new, reconstructed, and modified coal-fired steam electric generating units (EGUs). For natural gas-fired combustion turbines, EPA proposes no changes to the 2015 Obama-era rule.