The Public Utility Commission of Texas (Commission) plays a vital role in regulating the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) wholesale market, and retail energy markets throughout all of Texas. This article identifies key projects and initiatives at the Commission that are ongoing in 2022 and have a major impact on the electric power grid and energy markets in Texas. The Commission continues to move rapidly as it implements the 2021 post-Uri legislative mandates, and we expect it to continue changing regulations affecting a wide swath of the market and the ERCOT system to bolster reliability.  Everyone engaged in the ERCOT market should continue to pay close attention to these reforms.  Husch Blackwell is following these key matters at the Commission and represents or advises clients on many of them. We are happy to answer any questions related to any item outlined below.  

The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released its most recent proposal for controlling greenhouse gas emissions produced by the oil and gas industry earlier this month. The supplemental proposal builds upon the comments received by EPA in response to its proposed emission-control rules issued under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act (“CAA”) on November 15, 2021. In particular, the supplemental proposal revises and expands the stringent emissions control program introduced one year ago for new and existing sources. The supplemental proposal, however, raises questions regarding the implementation of existing greenhouse gas reporting and fee requirements under the Inflation Reduction Act (“IRA”). 

Regulated energy sector entities routinely submit confidential and proprietary business information to Texas state agencies, including the Railroad Commission (Texas’s incongruously named oil and gas regulator), the General Land Office, the Public Utility Commission, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas  (“ERCOT”), often assuming it is “for regulators’ eyes only.” But Texas agencies have limited power to prevent the disclosure of information sought pursuant to the Public Information Act (“PIA”).

In the weeks that followed a ransomware attack on a domestic pipeline company, the federal government’s efforts to shore up the cybersecurity posture of America’s critical infrastructure and supply chains, including the oil and gas industry, have garnered increased attention.  Historically, the oil and gas sector has not been subject to mandatory cybersecurity regulations, but rather was encouraged to follow voluntary security guidelines that were initially published by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in 2011 and revised in 2018. Yet, the industry sector’s geographic size, number of operators/stakeholders within the sector, and its importance to the national economy make the oil and gas industry an attractive target for cyberattacks.

Each of these factors begs the question whether voluntary cybersecurity measures are sufficient to protect this critical infrastructure component? Based on the TSA’s decision to publish the very first Pipeline Security Directive (“Directive”) three weeks after Colonial Pipeline was victimized by a ransomware attack, the answer to this rhetorical question appears to be an emphatic “No.”

On October 24, 2017, the Department of the Interior (“Interior”) filed its final report summarizing its review of Interior actions that potentially burden the development or use of energy produced in the United States. The review and resulting report were required by President Trump’s Executive Order 13783, which instructs the agencies to pay “particular attention” to any actions that delay or impose additional costs on oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.

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Fulfilling repeated campaign pledges to roll back the Obama administration’s climate change initiatives, President Trump signed a sweeping executive order yesterday targeting key Obama-era regulations, including the Clean Power Plan and emission standards for the oil and gas industry. The executive order states that it is in the interest of the nation to promote development of energy resources “while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation.” The multi-faceted approach taken by the order makes it clear that this Administration views any regulation of climate change or carbon pollution as “unnecessary.” 

Trans-Alaska PipelineOn January 23, 2017, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) amended its pipeline safety regulations to address the requirements of the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011. The final rule affects post-accident reporting obligations, safety training requirements, and permitting procedures. The major provisions of the new pipeline safety rule include