Tuning into a replay of the March 8, 2022 SEIA v. FERC oral argument on FERC’s PURPA reform rule – Order No. 872 – resulted in a somewhat unexpected lesson on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), including NEPA standing, and remedies. About two-thirds of the argument focused on whether an Environmental Assessment (EA) was necessary or too speculative, whether the Public Interest Organizations (PIOs) had standing to raise NEPA issues, and whether the most appropriate remedy for a NEPA violation was vacatur of the Final Rule or remand (leaving the Final Rule in place).
Before delving into the NEPA issues, much of the other one-third of the oral argument was spent discussing the issue of the right of a state commission to eliminate a QF’s option of selecting a fixed energy rate with the rate set at time of the legally enforceable obligation. SEIA’s primary contention was that FERC reversed a long-standing policy by finding in Order No. 872 that a single PURPA contract that over its life exceeded actual avoided cost, rather than balancing out over time, was a violation of PURPA itself. SEIA may have scored a point in arguing that given such a policy was adopted, the Final Rule could not have left it to the states to determine whether or not energy costs could be fixed or variable, as that act in itself would have itself been arbitrary. That said, it is quite difficult to find in Order No. 872 any definitive holding or finding that an individual contract violates PURPA if it over-estimates avoided cost over its lifetime, let alone, that FERC adopted a remedy to address this possible result. Continue Reading The Future of PURPA Reform Under Order No. 872: Did the Oral Argument Provide Any Clues?