On March 19, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or the Commission) announced several updates to their operations in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Chairman Chatterjee held a press conference and stated that FERC is fully functioning via the telework process and expects to continue to be able to complete its work considering matters and issuing orders on a timely basis. Most Commission employees are on telework status until further notice, and FERC’s headquarters are closed to all outside visitors, unless they are cleared for entry by the Office of the Executive Director. The Commission made the following announcements regarding its response to the pandemic:
- Technical Conferences: All technical conferences scheduled through May 2020 will be conducted via conference call or WebEx, or postponed. Schedules will be posted to the FERC.gov calendar.
- Hearings and ALJ Settlement Conferences: Chief Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Carmen Cintron has postponed one hearing scheduled to start on April 7, 2020 and will make case-specific calls on other hearings as their start dates approach. ALJ settlement conferences will continue via teleconference.
- Extension for Non-Statutory Filings Prior to May 1, 2020: The Commission issued a notice extending, until May 1, 2020, deadlines for certain required filings that are due between now and that date. Those filings include non-statutory items required by the Commission such as compliance filings, responses to deficiency letters, and rulemaking comments, as well as forms required by the Commission, except for FERC Form No. 6 (Annual Report of Oil Pipeline Companies). The extension also will apply to filings required by entities’ tariffs or rate schedules.
- Other Extensions and Waivers May Be Requested: Entities may seek extensions for other deadlines and may seek waiver of Commission orders, regulations, tariffs, and rate schedules, as appropriate. The Commission aims to be flexible and responsive during this time and stated that it will be receptive to requests for deadline extensions and other forms of relief. For example, the Commission granted a request from a regulated entity to waive a tariff requirement for face-to-face meetings.
- Enforcement Matters: The Commission will exercise its enforcement discretion to take the extenuating circumstances into account as it evaluates compliance and enforcement matters. The Office of Enforcement is postponing audit visits and investigative testimony and will adjust other deadlines as appropriate. They will also aim to be flexible and act expeditiously in granting extensions and waivers of compliance filings, forms, and electronic quarterly reports (EQRs), as appropriate.
- FERC Coronavirus Point of Contact: The Commission appointed Caroline Wozniak as its point of contact for all industry inquiries related to impacts of the Coronavirus on FERC-jurisdictional activities. Regulated entities can email PandemicLiaison@ferc.gov to receive responses to their questions from Commission staff.
- Coordination with Other Federal Agencies and NERC: The Commission is working with other federal agencies to proactively identify and address issues affecting energy infrastructure. FERC and NERC have agreed to coordinate to use their regulatory discretion as appropriate to provide temporary relief from certain compliance requirements while ensuring the reliability of the grid. NERC is postponing on-site audits, certifications, and other on-site activities through July.
Finally, the Commission emphasized that it is actively exploring other ways to lift burdens on the regulated community and maintains open lines of communication for regulated entities to make inquiries. Staff and the Office of Enforcement has been directed to work with companies to provide informal guidance and advice that reasonably balances what is happening on the ground with applicable compliance requirements. The Commission has specifically stated that it “will not be in the business of second guessing the good faith actions that companies take to keep the lights on.”
If you have any questions regarding your compliance obligations or deadlines, please do not hesitate to reach out to your Stoel Rives LLP contacts.