Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utilities Law
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Defendants, PG&E and Pacific Bell, own and maintain utility poles throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Plaintiff filed this action against both companies, alleging that the poles discharged wood preservative into the environment in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251-1387, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. 6901-6992k. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action under Rule 12(b)(6) where plaintiff failed to state a claim under the CWA because discharges of stormwater from the utility poles were neither a "point source discharge" nor "associated with industrial activity" and where plaintiff failed to state a claim under the RCRA because wood preservation that escaped from the utility poles was not a "solid waste." The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff leave to amend. View "Ecological Rights Foundation v. PG&E" on Justia Law

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These consolidated petitions for review challenged a contract between the BPA and one of its long-time customers, Alcoa. BPA's preference customers and others filed this petition for review, requesting that the court hold that the contract was unlawful because it was inconsistent with the agency's statutory mandate to act in accordance with sound business principles. Petitioners claimed, among other things, that instead of entering into a contract to sell power to Alcoa at the statutorily required Industrial Firm power (IP) rate, BPA should sell to other buyers at the market rate. The court denied the petitions for review insofar as they pertained to the Initial Period. Because the potential for BPA and Alcoa to enter into the Second Period of the contract was no longer before the court, the court dismissed those portions of the petitions. Finally, the court held that because BPA relied on a categorical exclusion to the National Environmental Policy Act's (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321-4347, requirements, declining to complete an Environmental Impact Statement was not arbitrary and capricious. Accordingly, the court denied petitioner's NEPA claim. View "Alcoa Inc. v. BPA, et al" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, a group of municipal and federal government entities, which sold electricity in the affected markets at issue but who were outside of FERC's refund jurisdiction, appealed FERC's order of refunds for electricity rates that were above what FERC determined to be the just and reasonable rate. The court did not agree with FERC's assertion that it had broad authority under section 206 of the Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. 824e, to retroactively reset rates that were charged in the California electricity markets during the time in question. Nonetheless, the court concluded that the specific FERC Orders that were challenged in the current petitions for review did not exceed the limits on FERC's authority. Consequently, the court denied the petitions. View "Modesto Irrigation District, et al. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The United States petitioned the district court for an order enforcing a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) subpoena served on Golden Valley Electric Association (Golden Valley) for power consumption records concerning three customer residences. The court granted the petition and ordered compliance. Golden Valley complied with the subpoena but appealed the order. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) Golden Valley's compliance with the district court's enforcement order did not moot the appeal; (2) the DEA's subpoena sought information relevant to a drug investigation, was procedurally proper, and was not overly broad; and (3) the subpoena complied with the Fourth Amendment. View "United States v. Golden Valley Elec. Ass'n" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from FERC's statutory mandate set out in the Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. 824-824w, to ensure that all rates and charges made, demanded, or received by power wholesalers were just and reasonable. Petitioners subsequently sought review of FERC's final order (Order 697), contending that the order violated FERC's governing statutes. In Order 697, FERC codified the existing limited market-based policy, along with multiple enhancements, in a final rule. At issue was whether the market-based regulatory policy established by FERC's order was permissible under the law. Taking into account Chevron deference, the law of the circuit, other relevant precedent, and the direction of the Supreme Court as to how the court should approach such administrative law issues concerning federal agencies, the court concluded that Order 697 did not per se violate the FPA.

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This case stemmed from a challenge by environmental groups to a proposed incremental drawdown of water from Lake Roosevelt in eastern Washington. At issue was whether the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) took a "hard look" and genuinely scrutinized the environmental consequence of its proposed action. The court held that, under its precedents and the circumstances presented, Reclamation's actions did not violate the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq. The court also held that its review revealed no other deficiencies in the substance of the Environmental Assessment (EA), and although Reclamation took several steps toward implementing the drawdown project before drafting the EA, it scrupulously adhered to NEPA's timing requirements. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.