Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law

by
This appeal centered on whether a solar energy project proposed by a local agency, the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District (District), was exempt from, or whether the District must comply with, the zoning ordinances of the city in which the project is to be developed, the City of Hesperia (City). The District adopted a resolution that its proposed solar energy project was both (1) absolutely exempt from the City's zoning ordinances under Government Code section 53091(e) and (2) qualifiedly exempt under section 53096(a), following the requisite determination that there was no feasible alternative to the proposed location of the project. The City successfully challenged the resolution in the underlying superior court proceedings, where the court issued a judgment in favor of the City and a related writ of mandate directing that the District and its board comply with the City's zoning ordinance prior to implementing the project. The Court of Appeal affirmed: because the District's proposed project included the transmission of electrical energy, the exemption contained in section 53091(e) did not apply to the project; and because the administrative record did not contain substantial evidence to support the District's board's finding that there was no feasible alternative to the proposed location of the project, the District prejudicially abused its discretion in determining that the exemption contained in section 53096(a) applied to the project. View "City of Hesperia v. Lake Arrowead Comm. Serv. Dist." on Justia Law

by
The Center for Biological Diversity appealed the denial of its petition for a writ of mandate challenging an environmental impact report (EIR) prepared by the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (Department) pursuant to a law known as Senate Bill No. 4. (Stats. 2013, ch. 313, sec. 2, enacting Sen. Bill No. 4; hereafter, Senate Bill No. 4.) Senate Bill No. 4 added sections 3150 through 3161 to the Public Resources Code to address the need for additional information about the environmental effects of well stimulation treatments such as hydraulic fracturing and acid well stimulation. As relevant here, Senate Bill No. 4 required the Department to prepare an EIR “pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act ([Public Resources Code] Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000) [CEQA]), to provide the public with detailed information regarding any potential environmental impacts of well stimulation in the state.” The Department prepared and certified an EIR. The Center filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, challenging the EIR under CEQA and Senate Bill No. 4. The trial court sustained a demurrer to the Center’s cause of action for violations of CEQA, and subsequently denied the petition for a writ of mandate. The Court of Appeal found no reversible error in the denial of mandamus relief and affirmed. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. CA Dept. of Conservation" on Justia Law

by
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) to extend its federal license to operate Oroville Dam and its facilities as a hydroelectric dam (referred to as the Oroville Facilities Project, Project, Settlement Agreement or "SA"). The plaintiffs brought this action in the superior court to stay the license procedure on the premise the environmental effects of relicensing the dam concern the operation of the dam and that jurisdiction to review the matter lies in the state courts pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act. They claimed that a CEQA document offered to support the DWR’s application to FERC failed to consider the impact of climate change on the operation of the dam for all the purposes served by the dam. The superior court dismissed the complaint on the ground that predicting the impact of climate change is speculative. The plaintiffs appealed. A federal license is required by the Federal Power Act for the construction and operation of a hydroelectric dam. The license is issued by FERC. With one relevant exception, the FPA occupies the field of licensing a hydroelectric dam and bars review in the state courts of matters subject to review by FERC. Plaintiffs did not seek federal review as required by 18 C.F.R part 4.34(i)(6)(vii)(2003). The Court of Appeal concluded it lacked jurisdiction to hear this case. It returned the case to the trial court with an order to dismiss. View "County of Butte v. Dept. of Water Resources" on Justia Law

by
This case arose from competing claims to a portion of the Yuba Goldfields, a 10,000-acre valley on both sides of the Yuba River near Marysville. At issue was whether an arbitration award resolving a dispute between plaintiff Cal Sierra Development, Inc. (Cal Sierra), and Western Aggregates, Inc., served as res judicata to bar Cal Sierra’s lawsuit against Western Aggregates’ licensee George Reed, Inc., and the licensee’s parent Basic Resources, Inc. The Court of Appeal concluded yes. View "Cal Sierra Development v. George Reed, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Substantively, in three somewhat interconnected claims, Joe and Yvette Hardesty (collectively, Hardesty) attacked State Mining and Geology Board (Board) findings, contending the trial court misunderstood the legal force of his 19th century federal mining patents. He asserted he had a vested right to surface mine after the passage of SMARA without the need to prove he was surface mining on SMARA’s operative date of January 1, 1976. He argued the Board and trial court misapplied the law of nonconforming uses in finding Hardesty had no vested right, and separately misapplied the law in finding that his predecessors abandoned any right to mine. These contentions turned on legal disputes about the SMARA grandfather clause and the force of federal mining patents. Procedurally, Hardesty alleged the Board’s findings did not “bridge the gap” between the raw evidence and the administrative findings. Hardesty also challenged the fairness of the administrative process itself, alleging that purported ex parte communications by the Board’s executive director, Stephen Testa, tainted the proceedings. The Court of Appeal reviewed the facts, and found they undermined Hardesty’s claims: the fact that mines were worked on the property years ago does not necessarily mean any surface or other mining existed when SMARA took effect, such that any right to surface mine was grandfathered. However, the Court agreed with the trial court’s conclusions that, on this record, neither of these procedural claims proved persuasive. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment denying the mandamus petition. View "Hardesty v. State Mining & Geology Board" on Justia Law

by
The trial court properly considered evidence showing the development of a gas storage market that relied exclusively on surface acres as the valuation metric. This appeal arose out of a condemnation action in which Fred Southam and Southam & Son (collectively, Southam) sought to introduce evidence of the value of their land for an underground natural gas storage project based on reservoir volume. The trial court’s in limine ruling excluded Southam’s valuation approach based on evidence all independently operated gas storage projects in California compensate landowners based on surface acres contributed to the project. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court properly considered evidence showing the development of an independently operated gas storage market that relied exclusively on surface acres as the valuation metric. Further, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding a volume-based valuation approach based on Southam’s failure to present any evidence this vaulation approach had ever been used in the market for natural gas storage leases. Southam did not establish his entitlement to cross examine an expert before that expert may give a declaration in support of a pretrial motion. The remainder of Southam’s arguments were deemed forfeited for failure to develop the argument, to cite any legal authority, or to provide any citation to the appellate record. View "Central Valley Gas Storage v. Southam" on Justia Law

by
Panoche, a producer of electricity, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), a utility that purchases its electricity, disputed which of them should bear the costs of complying with a legislatively-mandated program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions pursuant to the Global Warming Solutions Act (Assem. Bill 32 (2005–2006 Reg. Sess.). PG&E invoked the arbitration clause in its agreement with Panoche. Panoche resisted arbitration, arguing that the controversy was not ripe for resolution because ongoing regulatory proceedings at the California Air Resources Board and the California Public Utilities Commission would at least provide guidance in the arbitration and could render the proceeding unnecessary. The arbitration panel denied Panoche’s motion, and after a hearing determined that Panoche had assumed the cost of implementing AB 32 under the agreement and understood that at the time of signing. The arbitrators also concluded that the parties “provide[ed] for recovery of GHG costs” by Panoche through a “payment mechanism” in the agreement. The trial court agreed with Panoche, ruled that the arbitration was premature, and vacated the award. The court of appeal reversed and ordered confirmation of the award. Panoche identified no procedural disadvantage it suffered in going forward with the arbitration as scheduled and failed to meet the “sufficient cause” prong under Code of Civil Procedure 1286.2(a)(5). View "Panoche Energy Ctr. v. Pac. Gas & Elec." on Justia Law

by
Under Pub. Util. Code 1701(a)1, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC ) promulgated Rule 1.1, stating: Any person who . . . transacts business with the Commission . . . agrees . . . never to mislead the Commission or its staff by an artifice or false statement of fact or law. After a massive 2010 explosion of an underground gas pipeline owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the PUC imposed reforms, including requiring that PG&E improve its recordkeeping and information technology capabilities. PG&E was directed to keep the PUC informed of any reported pipeline leaks and any discovered information regarding the safety of pipeline operations. Following discovery of a pipeline leak, PG&E also discovered that some information it had provided to the PUC concerning the internal pressure at which certain pipelines could be safely operated might not be correct. About seven months after internally verifying the information, PG&E, communicated to the PUC via a written “Errata”‖ to a previous filing. Following extensive hearings, the PUC deemed this filing both a substantive and a procedural violation and imposed civil penalties totaling $14,350,000. The court of appeal affirmed, finding that the penalties were not grossly disproportional to the gravity of PG&E‘s tardiness. View "Pac. Gas & Elec. Co. v. Pub. Util. Comm'n" on Justia Law

by
This appeal stemmed from plaintiff's applications to SCE to interconnect solar generating systems to the SCE electricity grid to generate electricity for use on plaintiff's properties and to sell to SCE. At issue is the potential conflict between Public Utilities Code section 1759,2 which limits jurisdiction to review an order of the PUC to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, and section 2106, which grants jurisdiction to the superior court to hear actions for damages against a public utility that violates California law. The court concluded that the trial court correctly held that the PUC had exclusive jurisdiction over plaintiff’s claims under its Supreme Court’s holding in San Diego Gas & Electric Co. v. Superior Court because adjudication of plaintiff’s claims would “‘hinder or frustrate the commission’s declared supervisory and regulatory policies’” with respect to interconnection of solar generating facilities under Rule 21, Rule 16 and the California Renewable Energy Small Tariff (CREST) and Net Energy Metering (NEM) programs. To the extent plaintiff has viable damage claims following the PUC’s adjudication of his administrative complaints currently pending before the PUC, those claims will only become ripe for filing in the trial court once the PUC reaches a final decision. The court affirmed the judgment. View "Davis v. Southern Cal. Edison" on Justia Law

by
In this tax refund case, Chevron challenged the method by which the Kern County Assessor and Assessment Appeals Board valued oil and gas wells as new construction during three tax years, Rev. & Tax. Code, 5140 et seq. The trial court found that the Board used the wrong valuation method and remanded. Both parties appealed. The court concluded that Chevron has standing to maintain this action; concluded that the Board did not abuse its discretion or act contrary to law when it approved the assessor's valuation method; rejected Chevron's exemption argument; and reversed in part, affirming in part.View "Chevron USA v. County of Kern" on Justia Law