BPA Attempts to Split the Baby on Oversupply Management Costs

February 28, 2014

In its latest effort to put to rest the years-long controversy that has swirled around its efforts to address excessive electricity production during periods when high winds coincide with high water in the Columbia River system, the Bonneville Power Administration ("BPA") recently issued a draft Record of Decision ("ROD") allocating the costs of such events. While wind generators argued for allocating all such costs to BPA's power customers and BPA's power customers urged BPA to assign all such costs to its transmission customers, BPA chose a third path. In the recent draft ROD, issued by newly-minted BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer, BPA concluded that it should allocate oversupply costs to those generators operating within its balancing authority area that have scheduled power during an oversupply event. BPA's chosen alternative was supported by only one out-of-region entity, so it is unlikely to end either the controversy or the protracted litigation that has resulted.

As we have previously reported, the oversupply problem is an unintended consequence of the rapid expansion of wind generation in the Pacific Northwest. The wind fleet's capacity in the region now exceeds 7,000 MW, with 4,500 operating in BPA's balancing authority area. The oversupply problem arises when strong spring winds coincide with high spring runoff in the Columbia River Basin. In this situation, the combined electric power produced by federal dams on the Columbia River and wind generators in the region can exceed electrical loads. Further, the obligation to maintain dissolved gases within limits set by environmental authorities in order to avoided gas bubble trauma in fish (especially endangered salmon and steelhead runs), limits the amount of water dam operators can release over spillways, which adds to dissolved gas loads, requiring them instead to run the water through generators.

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Bully for Biomass: Washington Supreme Court Rejects Greenhouse Gas Claims, Upholds Finding of No Significant Environmental Impact for Biomass Facility

February 27, 2014

The Washington Supreme Court today rejected claims that the potential for greenhouse gas ("GHG") from a biomass facility triggers the requirement to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement under Washington's State Environmental Protection Act ("SEPA"). Today's decision promises to greatly simplify the permitting process for projects planning to use woody biomass and should help clarify how GHG emissions are treated for biomass-fired facilities, a question that has bedeviled courts and regulators in other contexts. PT Air Watchers et al. v. State of Washington et al., No. 88208-8 (issued Feb. 27, 2014).

The controversy arose from Port Townsend Paper Company's plans to modernize the boiler at its paper mill by increasing the use of woody biomass to fuel the boiler, increase the boiler's firing efficiency, and adding a 25 megawatt generator to produce electricity. The paper company prepared a SEPA "checklist" in accordance with WAC 197-11-960. The checklist concluded that, because the project would reduce burning of fossil fuels by burning woody biomass instead, it would produce a net reduction in GHG emissions. The Department of Ecology agreed, concluding that no EIS was required because the project would not produce significant environmental impacts. A coalition of local environmental groups challenged this finding, but the challenges were rejected both in an administrative appeal and by the reviewing courts. The Washington Supreme Court accepted review and today affirmed Department of Ecology's finding that no significant environmental impacts requiring preparation of an EIS would result from the project.

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Ninth Circuit Denies Rehearing in Greenhouse Gas Case, Continues to Struggle With Standing in Climate Litigation

February 13, 2014

A recent order of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit illustrates the extent to which courts continue to struggle with otherwise routine legal issues when confronting claims related to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. The order denies rehearing of last year's Ninth Circuit panel decision in Washington Environmental Council v. Bellon, which concluded that a group of environmental plaintiffs seeking to force the Washington Department of Ecology to issue greenhouse gas regulations lacked standing to bring the claim.

The rehearing order was unusual in several respects. Ordinarily, a dissatisfied party to the case seeks rehearing and, in nearly all cases, rehearing is denied in a short order simply noting that an insufficient number of judges supported the request for rehearing. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the Ninth Circuit's order is that it arose from a Ninth Circuit judge seeking rehearing, rather than from one of the parties. This suggests that at least some of the Ninth Circuit's judges view the October panel opinion as not just incorrect, but so seriously wrong that the Court should re-examine the decision even in the absence of any request to do so by the losing parties. The order is also unusual in that it included two impassioned opinions alternatively defending and attacking the October panel opinion.

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The Department of Defense Seeks Contracts for Purchase of Renewable Energy Credits

February 11, 2014

The Defense Logistics Agency today issued a presolicitation notice indicating that it will seek Basic Ordering Agreements ("BOAs") for the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates ("RECs") by the Department of Defense and associated civilian agencies. RECs will be purchased from solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass generators during the five-year period from May 2014 through May 2019. The notice indicates that a formal Request for Proposals will be issued in March.

A BOA is akin to the master agreements, such as the WSPP Agreement, familiar to many in the power industry. While the BOA does not guarantee that any particular quantity of RECs will be purchased, it sets forth the basic terms of the contract so that purchases can be made on an expedited basis.

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Transmission Terrorism: As Details of Substation Attack Come to Light, Senators Call for Action

February 7, 2014

Just before 1 a.m. on April 16, 2013, as-yet unidentified assailants launched an attack on the Metcalf substation in Silicon Valley. The attack lasted nearly an hour, disabling ten high-voltage transformers and three high-voltage transformer banks. Occurring just hours after the Boston Marathon bombings, the attack garnered little press coverage at the time and, as a federal investigation dragged on, details were slow to emerge. Beginning with an article published in Foreign Policy magazine in late 2013, information suggesting that the attack may have been the work of terrorists rather than vandals has started to come to light. In response to these revelations, group of four U.S. Senators today sent a letter to federal regulators calling for swift action to address the threat.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal published a long article providing many details of the attack. In the article, former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff noted several pieces of evidence suggesting that the attack was carefully orchestrated. For example, before the attack began, someone lifted a large cover off an underground vault and cut communications cables, knocking out communications in the area around the substation and interfering with emergency response. More than 100 empty shell cases, likely from AK-47 assault rifles, were found in the area around the substation. None had fingerprints and military experts found small piles of rocks that may have been left by an advance scout to mark the best vantage points for the attack. The number of shell cases and the fact that the vault cover probably could not have been lifted by a single person suggest that multiple individuals were involved in the attack. Many of these details were corroborated in subsequent accounts from media outlets such as National Public Radio and Bay Area newspapers.

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Beginning of the End for Colstrip? Washington UTC Rejects Puget Sound Energy's Analysis of Coal Plant Economics

February 7, 2014

The Washington Utilities & Transportation Commission ("UTC") yesterday rejected Puget Sound Energy's ("PSE") economic justification for continued operation of its Colstrip coal plant. The UTC's action, while not sealing the fate of Colstrip, sends PSE back to the drawing board and casts doubt on the future of the plant, which is already the subject of legal action brought by a coalition of environmental groups.

The UTC's findings were made in the context of PSE's 2013 Integrated Resource Plan. Under Washington law, the state's investor-owned utilities are required to develop and submit an Integrated Resource Plan to the UTC, which must be updated every two years. The Integrated Resource Plan is intended to analyze the alternatives available to meet the utility's anticipated load, and to identify the least-cost alternatives.

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Western PURPA War Update: Retreats, Advances, But Little Clarity

February 4, 2014

As we discussed last summer, the expansion of renewable energy generation, especially wind generation, has produced an escalating conflict between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") and several Western states over the application of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act ("PURPA"). In recent months, at least one major conflict has been resolved, while other conflicts continue to develop. While future developments may depend upon whether newly-nominated FERC Chairman Norman Bay adopts the aggressive enforcement policy of his predecessor, Jon Wellinghoff, recent action provides some hints as to the future legal landscape.

PURPA is a 1978 law that, among other requirements, mandates that utilities purchase power produced by smaller renewable generators. Recent conflicts have arisen over PURPA's basic mandate, which requires utilities to purchase power from PURPA-eligible generators, called "Qualifying Facilities" or "QFs", at avoided-cost rates. Conflicts have also arisen from efforts to square PURPA with recent industry developments, such as ownership of Renewable Energy Credits and integration of variable renewable resources..

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SLAPP Suit Blocked: Court of Appeals Rejects SLAPP Claim in Public Records Act Case

February 3, 2014

The Washington Court of Appeals today concluded that Washington's "anti-SLAPP" statute cannot be invoked when a municipality seeks a declaratory judgment to clarify its obligations under the Public Records Act. The Court's conclusions should be a welcome relief for Washington municipalities seeking to clarify their obligations under the Public Records Act and thereby to minimize their exposure to the substantial penalties that are sometimes imposed under the Act. City of Seattle v. Egan, No. 69129-5-I (Wash. App. Div. I, filed Feb. 3, 2014).

The Court of Appeal's decision arises from a Public Records Act request for documents related to an internal investigation of complaints filed against four Seattle police officers. Among the documents requested are 36 "dash-cam" videos. Believing the videos are exempt from disclosure under RCW 9.73.090(1)(c), which prohibits cities from providing videos to the public when legal action involving those videos is pending, the City withheld 35 of the 36 videos. In the face of threat of lawsuit seeking to force disclosure of the videos, the City filed a motion for declaration and preliminary injunction, asking the lower court to declare that the 35 videos are exempt from Public Records Act disclosure. The Public Records Act authorizes this procedure under RCW 42.56.540.

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New FERC Chairman: President Obama Nominates Norman Bay, Director of FERC Office of Enforcement

January 30, 2014

Today, President Obama announced that he will nominate Norman Bay to become the next Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC"). Mr. Bay currently directs FERC's Office of Enforcement. In that role, he has been the architect of a substantial ratcheting up of FERC's enforcement role. For example, under his watch, the Office of Enforcement has "grown adult teeth," aggressively pursued charges of market manipulation, obtaining, among other significant results, a settlement of $410 million against the energy trading arm of JP Morgan Chase.

Prior to his FERC career, Mr. Bay had a long career in the Justice Department, including a stint as the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico in 2000-01. Mr. Bay then taught at the University of New Mexico law school before moving to FERC in 2009.

This is President Obama's second attempt at replacing recently-departed FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff. The President's first nomination, of former Colorado PUC Chairman Ron Binz, turned into a political fiasco when, amid charges of pro-renewables "activism," Mr. Binz failed to achieve majority support in the Senate Energy Committee and was forced to withdraw his nomination. Because Mr. Bay has little track record in this area, his nomination appears calculated to avoid similar controversy.

If confirmed, Mr. Bay will take over the Chairman's mantle from current Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, who has been acting Chair since Mr. Wellinghoff's departure. Confirmation is likely to take at least several months and could take longer if, like several recent FERC nominations, it becomes bogged down in partisan disputes and poltical gamesmanship.

Washington Supreme Court Limits Recreational Immunity Statute

January 30, 2014

In a decision of great importance to major Washington landowners, including local governments, major private landowners such as forest products companies, and operators of water projects, the Washington Supreme Court today issued an opinion that may limit the state's recreational immunity statute. As a result of the decision, the immunity conferred by the statute is clouded in mixed-use situations, where access to land is granted for both recreational and other uses, such as transportation. Camicia v. Howard S. Wright Constr. Co., No. 85583-8 (issued Jan. 30, 2014).

First passed in 1967, the recreational immunity statute is intended to encourage landowners to open lands, as well as waterways associated with hydroelectric projects and similar facilities, to recreational users. The statute encourages recreational access by immunizing those landowners from liability for unintentional accidents where no fee is charged for recreational access.

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Pew Study Documents Progress in Military Renewables, Reliability and Efficiency Efforts

January 28, 2014

The U.S. military is making substantial progress toward its goals of acquiring 3 GW of renewable energy by 2025, substantially reducing energy use, and improving the reliability of power delivery to military bases, according to a recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The progress attained so far demonstrates the seriousness of the military's commitment to renewable energy, energy conservation, and reliability, and confirms that the Department of Defense ("DOD") energy initiatives represent a huge opportunity for private-sector energy developers.

The DOD initiatives arise from both Congressional mandates requiring increased use of renewable fuels and from recognition within the armed services that continued reliance on fossil fuels and an aging electric infrastructure creates unacceptable security vulnerabilities. For example, the Defense Science Board's influential 2008 report, "More Fight, Less Fuel," identified the military's continued reliance on fossil fuels, and the fragile supply lines associated with that dependence, as a major security problem for military operations around the world. "Unleashing the tether" that ties troops to vulnerable fuel supplies therefore became a major strategic objective. Similarly, the report concluded that serious security risks arise from the dependence of U.S. military bases on an aging electricity infrastructure that exposes bases to increasingly frequent power outages.

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"The California ISO-PacifiCorp Energy Imbalance Market Experiment: Can Public Power Avoid Assimilation?" Eric Christensen Publishes Article in January NWPPA Bulletin

January 28, 2014

We're proud to announce that GTH partner Eric Christensen has published an article in the January 2014 Northwest Public Power Association Bulletin. The article is available electronically here. We've inserted the text below:

Regulatory Update: The California ISO-PacifiCorp Energy Imbalance Market Experiment: Can Public Power Avoid Assimilation?
By Eric Christensen, Partner Gordon Thomas Honeywell

PacifiCorp and the California ISO are now cooperating to create an Energy Imbalance Market ("EIM") encompassing their collective service territories, which stretch from Utah to Southern California. For public power managers who follow "Star Trek", this development bring visions of the Borg, perhaps the most frightening foe dreamed up by the imaginative writers of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The Borg is a half-technological, half-biological alien race with a collective hive-mind. With machine-like implacability, the Borg assimilates all other intelligent species, turning them into cyborgs without independent thought. When the heroic Captain Picard is captured and assimilated, and programmed to instruct the human race "you will be assimilated, resistance is futile," all hope appears lost. Development of the EIM forces public power to consider whether assimilation into the ISO and its mind-numbingly complex system of regulations and "structured" markets, is inevitable, whether resistance is futile, and what can be done to protect core public power values.

THE PACIFICORP-ISO PROPOSAL
As envisioned in the PacifiCorp-ISO scheme, the EIM would create a short-term market for balancing and regulating reserves, scheduled every 15 minutes and dispatched at 5-minute intervals. The core functions of the EIM would be provided by the ISO's automated 15-minute market. Dispatch would be optimized across the footprint of the Balancing Area Authorities ("BAAs") participating in the EIM, principally as a means of optimizing the use of balancing reserves to integrate wind generation and other intermittent resources. The PacifiCorp-ISO EIM is designed to allow other BAAs to easily join, with reduced balancing costs held out as an incentive. It is almost certain that NV Energy, the IOU serving Nevada, will join the EIM once regulators approve its sale to Warren Buffet's business empire, making it part of the same corporate family as PacifiCorp. It is easy to anticipate that other BAAs in the West might follow suit. The assimilation of BAAs across the West makes the assimilation of public power seem all the more inevitable.

It now appears nearly certain we will see some form of EIM in the West. Public power should take proactive steps to prevent assimilation, to achieve a peaceful co-existence with the EIM, and, ideally, to move the EIM in a direction that benefits public power. To achieve these goals, public power will need to engage actively in the ongoing PacifiCorp-ISO process and the parallel Northwest Power Pool process. Public power should also consider creative structural solutions that can both insulate us from the problems of an EIM and allow us greater control of our own destiny.

POTENTIAL PROBLEMS FOR PUBLIC POWER
Assimilation by the ISO creates a number of problems for public power. These include, for example, "mission creep," the concern that an EIM would establish a beachhead for a much intrusive entity, such as a west-wide RTO long opposed by public power. Similarly, there is concern that the EIM will lead toward substantially increased regulation by the Federal Energy Commission ("FERC"), particularly over the Bonneville Power Administration.

Two examples demonstrate the potential problems. First, Southern California public power entities operating within the California ISO have been subject to FERC regulation of their transmission rates where it was adjudged that their rates were an element of the ISO's FERC-jurisdictional rates. Second, attempts by both Maryland and New Jersey to deal with the inadequacies of the PJM market, which lacks a coherent mechanism for load-serving entities to secure long-term power supplies, have recently been struck down by federal courts as inconsistent with FERC's exclusive jurisdiction over the wholesale power market. Thus, experience with other RTO/ISO markets suggests that expansion of the EIM to a west-side RTO could create both greater FERC jurisdiction over western public power entities and undermine the ability of public power to secure long-term power supplies. These outcomes are, of course, antithetical to public power's core value of local control and its primary mission of assuring reliable and economical power to public power customer-owners.

The problem of expanded FERC jurisdiction is, in light of recent events, a particular concern with respect to Bonneville Power Administration ("BPA"). If BPA joins the EIM as an active participant, FERC may well assert that the rates it charges for power dispatched into the EIM are a component of FERC-jurisdictional wholesale rates charged by the EIM. This would subject BPA to greater FERC jurisdiction, shifting the focus of control over the agency toward Washington, DC, and away from the Pacific Northwest. And it may provide a lever for FERC to exert greater pressure on BPA to move toward a west-wide RTO.

As discussed in my May 2013 Bulletin article, the risks of mission creep and expanded FERC jurisdiction can be limited by including specific safeguards in the documents governing the EIM. In this article, I propose additional safeguards, including a publics-only EIM and additional measures that should be included in the EIM's governing documents.

STRUCTURAL SOLUTION: A PUBLICS-ONLY EIM
By moving aggressively to create its own EIM with membership limited to public power entities, public power can create a structural mechanism to limit both damaging proposals from the EIM and FERC jurisdiction over BPA and other publicly-owned utilities. Fundamentally, the proposed structure would bring together public power utilities, including but not necessarily limited to publics operating BAAs, to pool regulation and balancing reserves and to interact with the PacifiCorp-ISO EIM.
A publics-only EIM would have several advantages over an EIM with mixed public and IOU participation. Perhaps most importantly, the publics-only structure would create an attractive option for BPA, capturing most or all of the advantages that an EIM might create for BPA, but creating a bulwark against expanded FERC jurisdiction over the agency.

In addition, the publics-only EIM would keep public power's fate squarely in its own hands. Because FERC generally has no authority over public power, a publics-only EIM will be able to resist top-down mandates from FERC. If FERC attempts to force a publics-only structure into an expanded mandatory market along the lines of a West-wide RTO, the publics can resist without the same fear of regulatory consequences that would be inherent in an EIM where FERC-jurisdictional IOUs are participants.

Similarly, when faced with the question of adding new functions that would move the EIM toward a full-scale RTO, a publics-only RTO can consider adding new functions on the basis of their own merits, without concern that mandates from FERC would force their hand. Thus, this structure allows public power greater control of its own fate, limiting the extent to which FERC can use its expansive jurisdiction over IOUs as a lever to force its will on the West.

ADDITIONAL GOVERNANCE MEASURES
As currently planned, the EIM will operate using the ISO's 15-minute market system. This creates the danger that the ISO will become the default operator of the EIM across the West. With this underlying market structure, ensuring that public power, especially public power entities operating outside California, have an adequate voice in the EIM's operation becomes a challenge.

PacifiCorp and the ISO propose a "Transition Committee" to move toward an independent governing structure for the EIM, but it is not clear the proposed structure would result in fully representative governance. The Transition Committee would be composed of seven members, but, apart from EIM participants, there is no requirement that any particular segment of the industry be represented. This is particularly a problem for public power utilities without BAAs, which are likely to ultimately foot the bill for EIM costs but will not directly participate. And the long-term governance structure of the EIM is still to be developed. This process merits public power's careful attention.

In addition, public power should insist on a "Circuit Breaker" that would require the EIM to suspend operations if there are indications that the market is being manipulated or is otherwise functioning improperly. Circuit breakers of this type are a common feature of most commodity markets. When there are indications that a market participant is attempting to "corner" the market in particular commodity or is otherwise manipulating market prices or outcomes, the circuit breaker kicks in and trading is suspended in that market until appropriate measures are put in place to end the market abuse and make whole those market participants who have suffered from the manipulation.

A circuit breaker is particularly important for the EIM because credible concerns have been raised about market power in the transmission markets covered by the EIM and because the cost-benefit analyses performed so far suggest, at best, modest benefits for the EIM. It is simply not worth the risk of repeating the disaster of the 2000-01 Enron crisis in order to obtain these relatively modest benefits. A circuit breaker would provide market participants with the kind of immediate protection that was lacking in 2000-01, when Western public power waited for more than a year for FERC to take meaningful action to end widespread manipulation and dysfunction of the power markets, which cost hundreds of thousands their jobs and reduced regional economic output by tens of billions of dollars.

CONCLUSION
When all hope of avoiding assimilation by the Borg appears lost, Star Fleet throws all its remaining ships into a blockade around the inner Solar System. With some clever last-minute thinking by the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the Borg's invasion is stopped and the human race is saved from assimilation. In the same way, the measures suggested here can create a blockade that protects core public power values, and prevents assimilation into FERC and the ISO.

Department of Energy Names Elliot Mainzer Permanent BPA Administrator

January 27, 2014

Perhaps signaling the beginning of the end of the turmoil that has gripped the Bonneville Power Administration ("BPA") since then-Administrator Bill Drummond was abruptly suspended last July, the U.S. Department of Energy today named Elliot Mainzer as the new BPA Administrator. By making Mr. Mainzer's appointment permanent -- he was named Acting Administrator amidst the chaos of Mr. Drummond's sudden suspension -- DOE put in place a critical piece of the puzzle that is BPA's future. The DOE appointment implicitly endorses the course Mr. Mainzer has set for BPA to navigate the problems that led to Mr. Drummond's removal, and may therefore signal a return to normalcy for the agency. With the explicit endorsement of key political figures and interest groups, Mr. Mainzer is now appears well-positioned to refocus the agency's attention on its core missions and responsibilities.

This is welcome news for the region. As marketer for the enormous federal hydropower system in the Columbia River Basin and operator of the majority of high-voltage electric transmission in the Pacific Northwest, BPA plays an outsized role in the region's economic and environmental health. And the BPA Administrator plays an outsized role in the agency's operations because the Administrator is clothed with broad powers nearly unparalleled in other federal agencies.

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Over Heated Dissent, Ninth Circuit Rejects Rehearing in Low Carbon Fuel Standards Challenge, Setting Up Possible Supreme Court Commerce Clause Showdown

January 23, 2014

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today rejected petitions for rehearing of its decision in Rocky Mountain Farmers Union v. Corey, the opinion issued last September which rejected constitutional challenges to California's low-carbon fuel standard. Seven judges dissented from the decision and took the unusual step of publishing their dissent which, in strongly-worded language, accused the majority of disregarding "longstanding dormant Commerce Clause doctrine" and placing the circuit "squarely at odds with Supreme Court precedent." This prompted Judge Ronald Gould to take the equally unusual step of issuing a written opinion defending the majority's decision to deny the petitions for rehearing.

As we have previously discussed, last fall, the Ninth Circuit, in a 2-1 split decision, upheld California's low-carbon fuel standard against challenges brought by out-of-state ethanol manufacturers, farmers, and allied interests. The challengers argued that, by using a geographically-based system for assessing the carbon footprint of different sources of ethanol and assigning higher default scores to Mid-Western producers than to California producers, California's system discriminated on its face against these out-of-state producers, and therefore violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Under a doctrine known as the "dormant Commerce Clause," the courts have long held that states are prohibited from imposing constraints on interstate commerce that discriminate against out-of-state economic interests and artificially favor in-state interests. The panel's majority concluded that the low-carbon fuel standard is not facially discriminatory because California's system for assessing the carbon footprint of different ethanol sources is based on objective scientific evidence rather than on impermissible discrimination against out-of-state producers. Nonetheless, the Court remanded the case to the trial court to review evidence that might prove whether the low-carbon fuel standard discriminates against out-of-state producers in practice.

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Eric Christensen to Speak at 19th Annual Buying & Selling Electric Power Conference

January 7, 2014

Please join us on January 13 and 14, 2014, for the 19th Annual Conference on Buying and Selling Electric Power in the West. The conference brings together leading energy attorneys, expert consultants, industry executives, government officials, and many others to discuss cutting-edge issues affecting the electric industry in the West.

On January 14, Eric Christensen, Chairman of GTH's Energy, Telecommunications and Utilities practice group will present a lecture on Columbia River Treaty, the current status of the treaty, and how future changes are likely to affect electric power production and transmission in the Pacific Northwest.

We look forward to seeing you there.