112 Search Results

January 13, 2019 |
Gibson Dunn Named a 2018 Law Firm of the Year

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP is pleased to announce its selection by Law360 as a Law Firm of the Year for 2018, featuring the four firms that received the most Practice Group of the Year awards in its profile, “The Firms That Dominated in 2018.” [PDF] Of the four, Gibson Dunn “led the pack with 11 winning practice areas” for “successfully securing wins in bet-the-company matters and closing high-profile, big-ticket deals for clients throughout 2018.” The awards were published on January 13, 2019. Law360 previously noted that Gibson Dunn “dominated the competition this year” for its Practice Groups of the Year, which were selected “with an eye toward landmark matters and general excellence.” Gibson Dunn is proud to have been honored in the following categories: Appellate [PDF]: Gibson Dunn’s Appellate and Constitutional Law Practice Group is one of the leading U.S. appellate practices, with broad experience in complex litigation at all levels of the state and federal court systems and an exceptionally strong and high-profile presence and record of success before the U.S. Supreme Court. Class Action: Our Class Actions Practice Group has an unrivaled record of success in the defense of high-stakes class action lawsuits across the United States. We have successfully litigated many of the most significant class actions in recent years, amassing an impressive win record in trial and appellate courts, including before the U. S. Supreme Court, that have changed the class action landscape nationwide. Competition: Gibson Dunn’s Antitrust and Competition Practice Group serves clients in a broad array of industries globally in every significant area of antitrust and competition law, including private antitrust litigation between large companies and class action treble damages litigation; government review of mergers and acquisitions; and cartel investigations, internationally across borders and jurisdictions. Cybersecurity & Privacy: Our Privacy, Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection Practice Group represents clients across a wide range of industries in matters involving complex and rapidly evolving laws, regulations, and industry best practices relating to privacy, cybersecurity, and consumer protection. Our team includes the largest number of former federal cyber-crimes prosecutors of any law firm. Employment: No firm has a more prominent position at the leading edge of labor and employment law than Gibson Dunn. With a Labor and Employment Practice Group that covers a complete range of matters, we are known for our unsurpassed ability to help the world’s preeminent companies tackle their most challenging labor and employment matters. Energy: Across the firm’s Energy and Infrastructure, Oil and Gas, and Energy, Regulation and Litigation Practice Groups, our global energy practitioners counsel on a complex range of issues and proceedings in the transactional, regulatory, enforcement, investigatory and litigation arenas, serving clients in all energy industry segments. Environmental: Gibson Dunn has represented clients in the environmental and mass tort area for more than 30 years, providing sophisticated counsel on the complete range of litigation matters as well as in connection with transactional concerns such as ongoing regulatory compliance, legislative activities and environmental due diligence. Real Estate: The breadth of sophisticated matters handled by our real estate lawyers worldwide includes acquisitions and sales; joint ventures; financing; land use and development; and construction. Gibson Dunn additionally has one of the leading hotel and hospitality practices globally. Securities: Our securities practice offers comprehensive client services including in the defense and handling of securities class action litigation, derivative litigation, M&A litigation, internal investigations, and investigations and enforcement actions by the SEC, DOJ and state attorneys general. Sports: Gibson Dunn’s global Sports Law Practice represents a wide range of clients in matters relating to professional and amateur sports, including individual teams, sports facilities, athletic associations, athletes, financial institutions, television networks, sponsors and municipalities. Transportation: Gibson Dunn’s experience with transportation-related entities is extensive and includes the automotive sector as well as all aspects of the airline and rail industries, freight, shipping, and maritime. We advise in a broad range of areas that include regulatory and compliance, customs and trade regulation, antitrust, litigation, corporate transactions, tax, real estate, environmental and insurance.

November 22, 2018 |
Beau Stark and Fred Yarger Named to Denver Business Journal’s Who’s Who in Energy

The Denver Business Journal has named Denver partners Beau Stark and Fred Yarger to its 2018 list of Who’s Who in Energy.  The list profiles the metro area’s key players in the energy industry.  Stark advises private equity funds and other public and private enterprises in the energy sector and a broad range of other industries, in both international and domestic markets.  Yarger’s practice focuses on complex litigation in trial and appellate courts, including cases involving administrative law and regulatory matters.  The list was published on November 22, 2018.

November 29, 2018 |
Gibson Dunn Ranked in 2019 Chambers Asia Pacific

Gibson Dunn earned 12 firm rankings and 21 individual rankings in the 2019 edition of Chambers Asia-Pacific. The firm was recognized in the Asia-Pacific Region-wide category for Investment Funds: Private Equity as well as the following International Firms categories: China Banking & Finance: Leveraged & Acquisition Finance; China Competition/Antitrust; China Corporate Investigations/Anti-Corruption; China Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded; China Investment Funds: Private Equity; China Private Equity: Buyouts & Venture Capital Investment; India Corporate/M&A; Indonesia Corporate & Finance; Philippines Projects, Infrastructure & Energy; Singapore Corporate/M&A; and Singapore Energy & Natural Resources. The following lawyers were ranked individually in their respective categories: Kelly Austin – China Corporate Investigations/Anti-Corruption Albert Cho – China Investment Funds Troy Doyle – Singapore Restructuring/Insolvency Sébastien Evrard – China Competition/Antitrust John Fadely – China Investment Funds Scott Jalowayski – China Private Equity: Buyouts & Venture Capital Investment Michael Nicklin –  China Banking & Finance: Leveraged & Acquisition Finance Jai Pathak – India Corporate/M&A, and Singapore Corporate/M&A Brad Roach – Indonesia Projects & Energy, Singapore Energy & Natural Resources, and Singapore Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas Saptak Santra – Singapore Energy & Natural Resources Brian Schwarzwalder – China Private Equity: Buyouts & Venture Capital Patricia Tan Openshaw – China Projects & Infrastructure, and Philippines Projects, Infrastructure & Energy Jamie Thomas – India Banking & Finance, Indonesia Banking & Finance, and Singapore Banking & Finance Graham Winter – China Corporate/M&A: Hong Kong-based Yi Zhang – China Corporate/M&A: Hong Kong-based The rankings were published on November 29, 2018.

November 28, 2018 |
Law360 Names Eight Gibson Dunn Partners as MVPs

Law360 named eight Gibson Dunn partners among its 2018 MVPs and noted that the firm had the most MVPs of any law firms this year.  Law360 MVPs feature lawyers who have “distinguished themselves from their peers by securing hard-earned successes in high-stakes litigation, complex global matters and record-breaking deals.” Gibson Dunn’s MVPs are: Christopher Chorba, a Class Action MVP [PDF] – Co-Chair of the firm’s Class Actions Group and a partner in our Los Angeles office, he defends class actions and handles a broad range of complex commercial litigation with an emphasis on claims involving California’s Unfair Competition and False Advertising Laws, the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, the Lanham Act, and the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. His litigation and counseling experience includes work for companies in the automotive, consumer products, entertainment, financial services, food and beverage, social media, technology, telecommunications, insurance, health care, retail, and utility industries. Michael P. Darden, an Energy MVP [PDF] – Partner in charge of the Houston office, Mike focuses his practice on international and U.S. oil & gas ventures and infrastructure projects (including LNG, deep-water and unconventional resource development projects), asset acquisitions and divestitures, and energy-based financings (including project financings, reserve-based loans and production payments). Thomas H. Dupree Jr., an MVP in Transportation [PDF] –  Co-partner in charge of the Washington, DC office, Tom has represented clients in a wide variety of trial and appellate matters, including cases involving punitive damages, class actions, product liability, arbitration, intellectual property, employment, and constitutional challenges to federal and state statutes.  He has argued more than 80 appeals in the federal courts, including in all 13 circuits as well as the United States Supreme Court. Joanne Franzel, a Real Estate MVP [PDF] – Joanne is a partner in the New York office, and her practice has included all forms of real estate transactions, including acquisitions and dispositions and financing, as well as office and retail leasing with anchor, as well as shopping center tenants. She also has represented a number of clients in New York City real estate development, representing developers as well as users in various mixed-use projects, often with a significant public/private component. Matthew McGill, an MVP in the Sports category [PDF] – A partner in the Washington, D.C. office, Matt practices appellate and constitutional law. He has participated in 21 cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, prevailing in 16. Spanning a wide range of substantive areas, those representations have included several high-profile triumphs over foreign and domestic sovereigns. Outside the Supreme Court, his practice focuses on cases involving novel and complex questions of federal law, often in high-profile litigation against governmental entities. Mark A. Perry, an MVP in the Securities category [PDF] – Mark is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office and is Co-chair of the firm’s Appellate and Constitutional Law Group.  His practice focuses on complex commercial litigation at both the trial and appellate levels. He is an accomplished appellate lawyer who has briefed and argued many cases in the Supreme Court of the United States. He has served as chief appellate counsel to Fortune 100 companies in significant securities, intellectual property, and employment cases.  He also appears frequently in federal district courts, serving both as lead counsel and as legal strategist in complex commercial cases. Eugene Scalia, an Appellate MVP [PDF] – A partner in the Washington, D.C. office and Co-Chair of the Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice Group, Gene has a national practice handling a broad range of labor, employment, appellate, and regulatory matters. His success bringing legal challenges to federal agency actions has been widely reported in the legal and business press. Michael Li-Ming Wong, an MVP in Cybersecurity and Privacy [PDF] – Michael is a partner in the San Francisco and Palo Alto offices. He focuses on white-collar criminal matters, complex civil litigation, data-privacy investigations and litigation, and internal investigations. Michael has tried more than 20 civil and criminal jury trials in federal and state courts, including five multi-week jury trials over the past five years.

November 26, 2018 |
FERC Issues Proposed Rule on Return of Excess ADITs by Electric Utilities

Click for PDF On November 15, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NOPR”) addressing how electric utilities are to modify their cost-based rates to account for the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 on accumulated deferred income taxes (“ADITs”).  FERC’s prior orders related to tax reform had deferred action on how to treat ADITs. FERC-jurisdictional transmission providers have billions of dollars of ADITs recorded on their books and the return of excess ADITs resulting from the Tax Act could return billions of dollars to ratepayers in coming years.  FERC’s rulemaking proceeding should provide guidance on how utilities are to address these ADITs, but the details will likely only be decided in company-specific proceedings initiated in the next year or so. ADITs are values recorded on the books of utilities that arise from the differences between the accelerated rates of depreciation used to calculate federal corporate income taxes and straight-line depreciation used to calculate FERC jurisdictional cost-based rates.  ADITs are generally liabilities that reflect money that will need to be paid to the IRS in the future and are based on an assumption that current income tax rates will remain the same. If federal corporate income tax rates fall, however, the amount the utility will actually need to pay to the IRS in the future is less than what was assumed.  And, as a result, the utility will be viewed as having over-collected from customers in the past.  In accounting parlance, the utility will be considered to have recovered “excess ADITs” through rates that, in the view of many, will need to be returned to customers, lest the utility enjoy a windfall from the tax cut that is not shared with customers. Indeed, this is the view taken by FERC in its NOPR.  It proposes to require utilities with formula transmission rates to adjust their rates to reflect the impact of the Tax Act on ADITs, whether that means returning excess ADITs to ratepayers or collecting deficient ADITs from ratepayers (though the former is likely to eclipse the latter for most utilities). Specifically, FERC proposes requiring such utilities to include a mechanism in their formula transmission rates that deducts any excess ADITs from rate base (or adds any deficient ADITs to rate base).  Notably, FERC states in the NOPR that it does not intend to adopt a “one size fits all” approach.  Instead, it intends to “allow public utilities to propose any necessary changes to their formula rates on an individual basis.” FERC also proposes that these utilities include a mechanism to decrease (or increase) any income tax allowances—i.e., a mechanism that provides for the return to or collection of excess or deficient ADITs from ratepayers over time.  In keeping with its approach of allowing flexibility, FERC does not propose any specific period of time but, instead, states that a “case-by-case approach to amortizing excess or deficient unprotected ADIT remains appropriate.”  Following this case-by-case approach, shortly before the NOPR issued, FERC approved a proposal by Emera Maine to return unprotected excess ADITs to customers over a period of 10 years. For utilities with stated transmission rates, however, FERC does not propose to require rate base adjustments prior to their next rate case.  But it does propose to require that such utilities determine their excess and deficient ADITs and propose in compliance filings a manner to return or recover these amounts from ratepayers. FERC-regulated transmission providers appear to have billions of dollars of ADITs recorded on their books.  Assuming FERC’s final rule generally follows its proposal, these utilities will likely need to return billions of dollars in excess ADITs.  But the precise manner in which this is done—and importantly the period of time over which excess ADITs will be returned—will likely be resolved only in company specific proceedings in the future. These proceedings are likely to be contentious at times, as customers will generally push for a faster return, but at the same time will need to balance that speed against future rate shock once the amortization is complete.  FERC recently approved Emera Maine’s request to return unprotected excess ADITs over 10 years, finding that doing so “balances passing through the benefits of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to ratepayers in a timely manner with avoiding rate shock.”  Whether other utilities will propose similar or different periods, and how FERC will respond, remains to be seen. The deadline for comments on the NOPR (issued in Docket No. RM19-5-000) is December 24, 2018.  FERC proposes that compliance filings be due within 90 days of the date of any Final Rule. *   *   *   * Gibson Dunn was counsel to Emera Maine in the matter noted above. Gibson Dunn’s Energy, Regulation and Litigation lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have regarding the developments discussed above.  To learn more about these issues, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work, or the authors: William S. Scherman – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-887-3510, wscherman@gibsondunn.com) Jeffrey M. Jakubiak – New York (+1 212-351-2498, jjakubiak@gibsondunn.com) Jennifer C. Mansh – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-955-8590, jmansh@gibsondunn.com) © 2018 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

November 21, 2018 |
Brad Roach recognized by Who’s Who Legal

Singapore partner Brad Roach was recognized by Who’s Who Legal Thought Leaders: Global Elite 2019. Brad was recognized in Energy, where he was the only attorney recognized in this category for Singapore. Lawyers included obtained the highest number of nominations from peers, corporate counsel and other market sources in the most recent research cycle. The list was published in November 2018.

October 31, 2018 |
Amendments to Section 205 of the Federal Power Act May Not Have Intended Result

Click for PDF Last week, President Trump signed into law the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (the “Act”) that, among other things, amends Section 205 of the Federal Power Act to make it easier to challenge new electric transmission rates for utilities regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “the Commission”). In recent years problems have arisen when the FERC Commissioners are evenly split on an issue (i.e., two-to-two with one Commissioner seat vacant) and when the Commission lacks a quorum of Commissioners (i.e., three or four Commissioner seats are vacant).  In either case, the Commission is unable to issue an order on the merits and thus the Section 205 applications are deemed accepted as a matter of law after 60 days.  Also problematic in these instances is that, because there is no written order, there is nothing to appeal.  Congress passed the Act to, among other things, address this problem and allow for an appeals process. Under Section 205 of the Federal Power Act, absent waiver, FERC-jurisdictional electric utilities must give the Commission and the public 60-days’ notice of any proposed changes to the rates, terms and conditions for transmission service or wholesale sales of electricity.  16 U.S.C. § 824d.  In that 60-day period, the Commission may issue an order accepting, amending, or rejecting the proposed rates, terms and conditions.  It may also take other action such as ordering a trial-like hearing.  Entities displeased with the order may appeal it to the federal courts, but only after they have sought and the Commission has denied a request for rehearing. If the Commission takes no action in that 60-day period, then the rates become effective automatically but, without a written order from the Commission.  This has happened only rarely.  But if it does happen, and there is no written order, then there is no order upon which to request rehearing and thus no avenue for seeking judicial appeal. In recent years there have been multiple prolonged vacancies at the Commission, resulting in either a lack of quorum or two-to-two splits on a matter.  As a result, there may be instances in which the Commissioners are split two-to-two and thus are unable to act upon a Section 205 filing within the statutory 60-day period. This problem first gained lawmakers’ attention after a contentious ISO New England capacity auction in 2014 whose results were filed with FERC for approval under Section 205.  At that time, FERC had four Commissioners who were split two-to-two on whether to approve the auction results.  Consequently, the auction results went into effect by default when the 60-day notice period expired and there was no order for aggrieved parties to challenge before the Commission or in court.  See Notice of Filing Taking Effect by Operation of Law, ISO New England Inc., Docket No. ER14-1409-000 (Sept. 16, 2014). The Act amends Section 205 of the Federal Power Act to address similar results when the Commission is split “two against two . . . as a result of vacancy, incapacity, or recusal, or if the Commission lacks a quorum.”  In those circumstances, the new law provides that “the failure to issue an order accepting or denying” a changed rate “shall be considered to be an order issued by the Commission accepting the change,” and requires each Commissioner to issue a written statement with his or her views on the change.  In addition, the Act provides that if “the Commission fails to act on the merits of the rehearing request [within 30 days] because the Commissioners are divided two against two . . . or if the Commission lacks a quorum, such person may appeal [to federal court].”  This language appears in the new Section 205(g). Perhaps unintentionally, the amended law does not fully resolve the problem Congress seeks to correct as there are at least two ways in which the objective can still be undermined.  Importantly, while the Act permits a path forward towards filing an appeal, entities remain statutorily required to first file requests for rehearing.  In instances where the Commission is divided two-to-two, it could issue a tolling order on the request for rehearing (which is very often done), and this order would indefinitely toll the statutory deadline for issuing a decision on the rehearing request.  Notably, these circumstances are only present when the Commission is split two-to-two, and do not apply when the Commission lacks a quorum. If FERC instead wishes to “kick the can down the road” until five Commissioners are seated, it can issue an order tolling the 30-day deadline and explicitly stating that it needs more time to deliberate and that it is not issuing the tolling order due to a two-to-two split but instead is doing so for some other reason.  Because the new language in Section 205(g) applies only when the Commission fails to issue an order due to a two-to-two split, a tolling order that is specifically not issued for that reason would fall outside the new law’s purview.  The rehearing request could remain undecided and un-appealable indefinitely. A second, thornier problem could arise if a four-member Commission issues a tolling order for a rehearing request but does not explain why it is being issued.  This is a likely scenario, as most tolling orders are brief and boilerplate.  An aggrieved party could interpret FERC’s silence to mean that the Commission is divided two-to-two on the merits.  Accordingly, that party could understand that the new Section 205(g) applies and that the rehearing request is denied as a matter of law after 30 days pass without a FERC order on the merits, and seek judicial review.  The court would need to decide whether it has jurisdiction under the new law, and in turn decide novel questions like whether the challenging party or FERC has the burden to prove that the Commission did or did not issue the tolling order due to a two-to-two split. Because the Commission is currently short a member, and there may be prolonged periods in the future when the Commission lacks five members, the coming months may test the new law’s efficacy. Gibson Dunn’s Energy, Regulation and Litigation lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have regarding the developments discussed above.  To learn more about these issues, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work, or the authors: William S. Scherman – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-887-3510, wscherman@gibsondunn.com) Jeffrey M. Jakubiak – New York (+1 212-351-2498, jjakubiak@gibsondunn.com) Jennifer C. Mansh – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-955-8590, jmansh@gibsondunn.com) Amy E. Mersol-Barg – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-955-8529, amersolbarg@gibsondunn.com) © 2018 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

October 22, 2018 |
IRS Provides Much Needed Guidance on Opportunity Zones through Issuance of Proposed Regulations

Click for PDF On October 19, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (the “IRS“) and the Treasury Department issued proposed regulations (the “Proposed Regulations“) providing rules regarding the establishment and operation of “qualified opportunity funds” and their investment in “opportunity zones.”[1]  The Proposed Regulations address many open questions with respect to qualified opportunity funds, while expressly providing in the preamble that additional guidance will be forthcoming to address issues not resolved by the Proposed Regulations.  The Proposed Regulations should provide investors, sponsors and developers with the answers needed to move forward with projects in opportunity zones. Opportunity Zones Qualified opportunity funds were created as part of the tax law signed into law in December 2017 (commonly known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA“)) to incentivize private investment in economically underperforming areas by providing tax benefits for investments through qualified opportunity funds in opportunity zones.  Opportunity zones are low-income communities that were designated by each of the States as qualified opportunity zones – as of this writing, all opportunity zones have been designated, and each designation remains in effect from the date of designation until the end of the tenth year after such designation. Investments in qualified opportunity funds can qualify for three principal tax benefits: (i) a temporary deferral of capital gains that are reinvested in a qualified opportunity fund, (ii) a partial exclusion of those reinvested capital gains on a sliding scale and (iii) a permanent exclusion of all gains realized on an investment in a qualified opportunity fund that is held for a ten-year period. In general, all capital gains realized by a person that are reinvested within 180 days of the recognition of such gain in a qualified opportunity fund for which an election is made are deferred for U.S. federal income tax purposes until the earlier of (i) the date on which such investment is sold or exchanged and (ii) December 31, 2026. In addition, an investor’s tax basis in a qualified opportunity fund for purposes of determining gain or loss, is increased by 10 percent of the amount of gain deferred if the investment is held for five years prior to December 31, 2026 and is increased by an additional 5 percent (for a total increase of 15 percent) of the amount of gain deferred if the investment is held for seven years prior to December 31, 2026. Finally, for investments in a qualified opportunity fund that are attributable to reinvested capital gains and held for at least 10 years, the basis of such investment is increased to the fair market value of the investment on the date of the sale or exchange of such investment, effectively eliminating any gain (other than the deferred gain that was reinvested in the qualified opportunity fund and taxable or excluded as described above) in the investment for U.S. federal income tax purposes (such benefit, the “Ten Year Benefit“). A qualified opportunity fund, in general terms, is a corporation or partnership that invests at least 90 percent of its assets in “qualified opportunity zone property,” which is defined under the TCJA as “qualified opportunity zone business property,” “qualified opportunity zone stock” and “qualified opportunity zone partnership interests.”  Qualified opportunity zone business property is tangible property used in a trade or business within an opportunity zone if, among other requirements, (i) the property is acquired by the qualified opportunity fund by purchase, after December 31, 2017, from an unrelated person, (ii) either the original use of the property in the opportunity zone commences with the qualified opportunity fund or the qualified opportunity fund “substantially improves” the property by doubling the basis of the property over any 30 month period after the property is acquired and (iii) substantially all of the use of the property is within an opportunity zone.  Essentially, qualified opportunity zone stock and qualified opportunity zone partnership interests are stock or interests in a corporation or partnership acquired in a primary issuance for cash after December 31, 2017 and where “substantially all” of the tangible property, whether leased or owned, of the corporation or partnership is qualified opportunity zone business property. The Proposed Regulations – Summary and Observations The powerful tax incentives provided by opportunity zones attracted substantial interest from investors and the real estate community, but many unresolved questions have prevented some taxpayers from availing themselves of the benefits of the law.  A few highlights from the Proposed Regulations, as well as certain issues that were not resolved, are outlined below. Capital Gains The language of the TCJA left open the possibility that both capital gains and ordinary gains (e.g., dealer income) could qualify for deferral if invested in a qualified opportunity fund.  The Proposed Regulations provide that only capital gains, whether short-term or long-term, qualify for deferral if invested in a qualified opportunity fund and further provide that when recognized, any deferred gain will retain its original character as short-term or long-term. Taxpayer Entitled to Deferral The Proposed Regulations make clear that if a partnership recognizes capital gains, then the partnership, and if the partnership does not so elect, the partners, may elect to defer such capital gains.  In addition, the Proposed Regulations provide that in measuring the 180-day period by which capital gains need to be invested in a qualified opportunity fund, the 180-day period for a partner begins on the last day of the partnership’s taxable year in which the gain is recognized, or if a partner elects, the date the partnership recognized the gain.  The Proposed Regulations also state that rules analogous to the partnership rules apply to other pass-through entities, such as S corporations. Ten Year Benefit The Ten Year Benefit attributable to investments in qualified opportunity funds will be realized only if the investment is held for 10 years.  Because all designations of qualified opportunity zones under the TCJA automatically expire no later than December 31, 2028, there was some uncertainly as to whether the Ten Year Benefit applied to investments disposed of after that date.  The Proposed Regulations expressly provide that the Ten Year Benefit rule applies to investments disposed of prior to January 1, 2048. Qualified Opportunity Funds The Proposed Regulations generally provide that a qualified opportunity fund is required to be classified as a corporation or partnership for U.S. federal income tax purposes, must be created or organized in one of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, or, in certain cases a U.S. possession, and will be entitled to self-certify its qualification to be a qualified opportunity fund on an IRS Form 8996, a draft form of which was issued contemporaneously with the issuance of the Proposed Regulations. Substantial Improvements Existing buildings in qualified opportunity zones generally will qualify as qualified opportunity zone business property only if the building is substantially improved, which requires the tax basis of the building to be doubled in any 30-month period after the property is acquired.  In very helpful rule for the real estate community, the Proposed Regulations provide that, in determining whether a building has been substantially improved, any basis attributable to land will not be taken into account.  This rule will allow major renovation projects to qualify for qualified opportunity zone tax benefits, rather than just ground up development.  This rule will also place a premium on taxpayers’ ability to sustain a challenge to an allocation of purchase price to land versus improvements. Ownership of Qualified Opportunity Zone Business Property In order for a fund to qualify as a qualified opportunity fund, at least 90 percent of the fund’s assets must be invested in qualified opportunity zone property, which includes qualified opportunity zone business property.  For shares or interests in a corporation or partnership to qualify as qualified opportunity zone stock or a qualified opportunity zone partnership interest, “substantially all” of the corporation’s or partnership’s assets must be comprised of qualified opportunity zone business property. In a very helpful rule, the Proposed Regulations provide that cash and other working capital assets held for up to 31 months will count as qualified opportunity zone business property, so long as (i) the cash and other working capital assets are held for the acquisition, construction and/or or substantial improvement of tangible property in an opportunity zone, (ii) there is a written plan that identifies the cash and other working capital as held for such purposes, and (iii) the cash and other working capital assets are expended in a manner substantially consistent with that plan. In addition, the Proposed Regulations provide that for purposes of determining whether “substantially all” of a corporation’s or partnership’s tangible property is qualified opportunity zone business property, only 70 percent of the tangible property owned or leased by the corporation or partnership in its trade or business must be qualified opportunity zone business property. Qualified Opportunity Funds Organized as Tax Partnerships Under general partnership tax principles, when a partnership borrows money, the partners are treated as contributing money to the partnership for purposes of determining their tax basis in their partnership interest.  As a result of this rule, there was uncertainty regarding whether investments by a qualified opportunity fund that were funded with debt would result in a partner being treated, in respect of the deemed contribution of money attributable to such debt, as making a contribution to the partnership that was not in respect of reinvested capital gains and, thus, resulting in a portion of such partner’s investment in the qualified opportunity fund failing to qualify for the Ten Year Benefit.  The Proposed Regulations expressly provide that debt incurred by a qualified opportunity fund will not impact the portion of a partner’s investment in the qualified opportunity fund that qualifies for the Ten Year Benefit. The Proposed Regulations did not address many of the other open issues with respect to qualified opportunity funds organized as partnerships, including whether investors are treated as having sold a portion of their interest in a qualified opportunity fund and thus can enjoy the Ten Year Benefit if a qualified opportunity fund treated as a partnership and holding multiple investments disposes of one or more (but not all) of its investments.  Accordingly, until further guidance is issued, we expect to see most qualified opportunity funds organized as single asset corporations or partnerships. Effective Date In general, taxpayers are permitted to rely upon the Proposed Regulations so long as they apply the Proposed Regulations in their entirety and in a consistent manner.    [1]   Prop. Treas. Reg. §1.1400Z-2 (REG-115420-18). Gibson Dunn’s lawyers are available to assist with any questions you may have regarding these developments.  For further information, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work, any member of the Tax Practice Group, or the following authors: Brian W. Kniesly – New York (+1 212-351-2379, bkniesly@gibsondunn.com) Paul S. Issler – Los Angeles (+1 213-229-7763, pissler@gibsondunn.com) Daniel A. Zygielbaum – New York (+1 202-887-3768, dzygielbaum@gibsondunn.com) Please also feel free to contact any of the following leaders and members of the Tax practice group: Jeffrey M. Trinklein – Co-Chair, London/New York (+44 (0)20 7071 4224 / +1 212-351-2344), jtrinklein@gibsondunn.com) David Sinak – Co-Chair, Dallas (+1 214-698-3107, dsinak@gibsondunn.com) David B. Rosenauer – New York (+1 212-351-3853, drosenauer@gibsondunn.com) Eric B. Sloan – New York (+1 212-351-2340, esloan@gibsondunn.com) Romina Weiss – New York (+1 212-351-3929, rweiss@gibsondunn.com) Benjamin Rippeon – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-955-8265, brippeon@gibsondunn.com) Hatef Behnia – Los Angeles (+1 213-229-7534, hbehnia@gibsondunn.com) Dora Arash – Los Angeles (+1 213-229-7134, darash@gibsondunn.com) Scott Knutson – Orange County (+1 949-451-3961, sknutson@gibsondunn.com) © 2018 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

October 18, 2018 |
FERC Issues Long-Awaited Order on Return on Equity for New England Electric Utilities

Click for PDF On October 16, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) issued a long-awaited order on the return on equity (“ROE”) to be used by electric utilities in New England for setting their transmission rates.  The order has major implications for all electric utilities—not just those in New England—because the order establishes a new methodology for reviewing and setting ROEs that will be applied to all FERC-regulated electric utilities going forward.  There is no indication in the order that FERC intends this methodology to apply to natural gas pipeline rates. In Tuesday’s order, FERC charted a wholly new course for setting ROEs by using neither a one-step or two-step discounted cash flow (“DCF”) methodology as it has used historically.  Implicitly responding to long standing criticism of the DCF model, FERC instead adopted a new approach in which it: (i) will first look to whether an existing ROE falls within a particular range of ROEs within a “zone of reasonableness” established through three separate financial models (one of which is the DCF) and then, if the ROE falls outside the range, (ii) it will establish a new ROE through application of four separate methodologies for estimating ROEs. The order was issued in four separate but related proceedings initiated by complaints filed against the New England utilities.  One of these proceedings was on remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s 2017 decision in Emera Maine v. FERC.  Three were pending before FERC on “exceptions” (i.e., appeal) from FERC administrative law judge (“ALJ”) decisions issued in 2016 and 2018. These four related cases began with a complaint filed against New England’s utilities on September 30, 2011 by Martha Coakley, the Attorney General of Massachusetts, and other entities and state agencies.  FERC set that matter for hearing before an ALJ but, on appeal of the ALJ’s decision, issued its then-seminal 2014 order in Coakley v. Bangor Hydro in which it changed its historic methodology for setting electric utility ROEs. Prior to Coakley, FERC established electric utility ROEs based on a “one-step” DCF methodology that estimated actual ROEs of publicly traded electric utilities to determine the appropriate ROE for the subject utility.  More specifically, the methodology calculated what investors in comparable utilities expected for ROEs (as evidenced by dividend yields and analyst earnings forecasts) and then set the ROE for the subject utility at either the midpoint or median of the range of ROEs of these comparable utilities (the so-called “zone of reasonableness”). In Coakley, FERC instead used a “two-step” DCF methodology to set the ROEs for the New England utilities.  This methodology, which had been used by FERC for natural gas pipelines for some time, looked not only at ROEs of comparable utilities but also at long-term economic growth forecasts.  All things being equal, the two-step methodology thus resulted in a lower ROE than the one-step methodology because long-term forecast economic growth generally is lower than ROEs imputed from divided yields and earnings forecasts.  However, in a major departure from precedent, FERC set the ROE for the New England utilities not at the median or midpoint of the zone of reasonableness, but at the midpoint of the upper half of the zone.  FERC explained that anomalous capital market conditions justified this departure from precedent. From 2012 to 2014, three additional complaints were filed against the New England utilities by a variety of entities seeking lower ROEs.  FERC set all three for hearing before ALJs.  All three resulted in ALJ decisions that were appealed up to FERC, where they remain pending, and partially rendered moot by yesterday’s FERC order. The Coakley decision was widely criticized as an opportunistic means to lowering overall returns at a time when lower interest rates were actually encouraging new infrastructure investment.  The decision was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by both the utilities and their customers. The Court in 2017—in an order titled Emera Maine v. FERC—found in part for the utilities and in part for the customers.  Finding for the customers, the Court held that an existing ROE that falls within the zone of reasonableness is not per se just and reasonable and, thus, may be changed by FERC.  Finding for the utilities, the Court held that FERC had not adequately shown that the New England utilities’ existing ROE was unjust and reasonable.  The Court thus vacated the underlying Coakley decision and remanded the matter to FERC.  But by vacating the underlying decision, the Court gave FERC wide berth in adopting a new and revised approach to establishing ROE policy. Yesterday’s FERC order addresses the Coakley decision’s shortcomings identified by the Court in Emera Maine v. FERC by establishing a clear two-step approach to ROE complaint matters.  But it goes much further by looking beyond DCF analyses and espousing a methodology that uses multiple financial models. First, FERC proposes using three different financial models—the DCF, the CAPM, and the Expected Earnings models—to establish a zone of reasonableness of estimated ROEs enjoyed by utilities with comparable risk to that at issue (with risk generally indicated by credit ratings).  The DCF model, as noted, has historically been the sole model used by FERC to establish the zone of reasonableness and, if necessary, the new ROE; parties, however, have often presented evidence of results from the CAPM or Expected Earnings models as additional evidence seeking to support or refute the DCF results. Importantly, FERC held that if a utility’s existing ROE falls within a particular range (i.e., effectively a sub-zone) within the zone of reasonableness it will be presumed to be just and reasonable.  As a result, FERC will dismiss a complaint if the ROE falls within the range unless other evidence sufficiently rebuts that presumption.  Given the D.C. Circuit’s ruling in Emera Maine v. FERC, this part of FERC’s order will likely be challenged in court again. Second, if the existing ROE is found to be unjust and unreasonable, FERC will establish a new ROE based on four financial models—the three used to set the zone of reasonableness as well as the Risk Premium Model.  More specifically, FERC will set the new ROE at the average of (i) the midpoints or medians of the zones of reasonableness established by the DCF, the CAPM, and the Expected Earnings models and (ii) the single numerical result of the Risk Premium Model (which, like the CAPM and Expected Earnings models, has been used in FERC proceedings as additional evidence).  More detail on the models is provided in an appendix to the FERC order. As FERC applied this new methodology to the pending New England utility cases, it found that the range for evaluating the current ROE is 9.60 percent to 10.99 percent and that the pre-Coakley 11.14 percent ROE for the utilities is unjust and unreasonable.  FERC then applied the new composite methodology to setting ROEs and reached a “preliminary” finding that a 10.41 percent ROE is just and reasonable.  FERC however established a “paper hearing” and invited parties to submit briefs regarding the proposed new approach to ROEs and its application to the four New England complaint proceedings.  Initial briefs are due within 60 days of the date of the order and reply briefs are due 30 days thereafter. The order was issued by Chairman McIntryre, and Commissioners LaFleur and Chatterjee. Commissioner Glick did not participate in the decision, but no reason was given.  It is suspected that Commissioner Glick recused himself because he previously worked for Iberdrola, the parent of two of the New England electric utilities directly impacted by the order. On balance, FERC’s new approach, while complicated, appears to be a sounder approach to establishing ROEs than simply using the DCF method.  However, the order fails to specify many implementation details that will need to be hashed out in the upcoming briefing process.  How these details are determined will have a large impact on the end result of the new approach.  And all of this will likely be done in the context of rising interest rates and the need to invest in new transmission infrastructure in a number of parts of the country. Gibson Dunn’s Energy, Regulation and Litigation lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have regarding the developments discussed above.  To learn more about these issues, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work, or the authors: William S. Scherman – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-887-3510, wscherman@gibsondunn.com) Jeffrey M. Jakubiak – New York (+1 212-351-2498, jjakubiak@gibsondunn.com) Jennifer C. Mansh – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-955-8590, jmansh@gibsondunn.com) © 2018 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

October 1, 2018 |
Congress Clarifies Statutory Thresholds for FERC Merger Approvals

Click for PDF On September 28, 2018, President Trump signed into law amendments to Section 203 of the Federal Power Act that, among other things, narrow the scope of transactions that require prior approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”).  The changes become effective on March 27, 2019. Presently, FERC prior approval is required anytime a public utility or an affiliate of a public utility acquires facilities subject to FERC’s jurisdiction (i.e., it engages in a “utility merger”)—regardless of value.  The new law establishes a $10 million threshold for such transactions and also requires after-the-fact reporting of such transactions involving assets valued between $1 million and $10 million. This amendment fixes inconsistencies in the Federal Power Act and eases significantly the regulatory burden associated with the purchase of smaller and/or lower value, FERC-jurisdictional assets.  Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress eliminated entirely any clear monetary threshold for utility merger approvals while at the same time increasing the threshold from $50,000 to $10 million for all other types of sales and purchases requiring FERC approval.  Since the statute was silent regarding any sort of de minimis threshold utility merger approvals, FERC interpreted its authority to extend to all such mergers regardless of the value of the facilities.  This has led to numerous applications to FERC for approval of transactions involving minimally valued assets (some as low as $1), frustration on the part of some utilities, and some entities incurring fines from the FERC Office of Enforcement due to erroneous reading of a $10 million threshold into the statute. The amended Section 203(a)(1) will also significantly ease the regulatory burden associated with the sales of lower value, FERC-jurisdictional assets.  Applications to FERC under Section 203 are burdensome to compile and it can often take months before the Commission issues an order on the request.  This amendment will help to encourage sales of less valuable FERC-jurisdictional assets while also freeing up the Commission to focus on other matters. Starting on March 27, 2019, entities wishing to engage in transactions involving FERC-jurisdictional assets of more than $10 million must continue to request FERC approval for consummating the transaction.  Entities wishing to engage in transactions involving FERC-jurisdictional assets between $1 million and $10 million do not need to seek FERC pre-approval, and instead must only notify FERC of the transaction within one month of the closing.  Transactions involving FERC-jurisdictional assets below the $1 million threshold do not need to be reported. Gibson Dunn’s Energy, Regulation and Litigation lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have regarding the developments discussed above.  To learn more about these issues, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work, or the authors: William S. Scherman – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-887-3510, wscherman@gibsondunn.com) Jeffrey M. Jakubiak – New York (+1 212-351-2498, jjakubiak@gibsondunn.com) Jennifer C. Mansh – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-955-8590, jmansh@gibsondunn.com) © 2018 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

August 1, 2018 |
Who’s Who Legal Recognizes Nine Gibson Dunn Partners

Nine Gibson Dunn partners were recognized by Who’s Who Legal in their respective fields. In Who’s Who Legal Corporate Tax 2018, three partners were recognized: Sandy Bhogal (London), Hatef Behnia (Los Angeles) and Eric Sloan (New York). In the 2018 Who’s Who Legal Project Finance guide, two partners were recognized: Michael Darden (Houston) and Tomer Pinkusiewicz (New York). In the Who’s Who Legal Labour, Employment & Benefits 2018 guide, two partners were recognized: William Kilberg (Washington, D.C.) and Eugene Scalia (Washington, D.C.). Two partners were recognized by Who’s Who Legal Patents 2018: Josh Krevitt (New York) and William Rooklidge (Orange County). These guides were published in July and August of 2018.

July 31, 2018 |
EPA Amendments to the Coal Ash Rule

Click on PDF On July 30, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) published a final rule amending the national minimum criteria for existing and new landfills and surface impoundments that contain coal combustion residuals (“CCR”), also known as coal ash.[1]  This rule, which directly affects over four hundred coal-fired electricity generating plants nationwide, is the first in a series of anticipated amendments altering regulations promulgated under the Obama Administration to address the disposal of coal ash in landfills and surface impoundments.  This first phase of regulatory changes has three key elements: It adopts two alternative performance standards that either participating state directors or the EPA may apply to owners and operators of CCR units; It revises groundwater protection standards (“GWPS”) for four regulated constituents which do not have an established maximum contaminant level under the Safe Drinking Water Act; and It extends certain deadlines by which facilities must cease the placement of waste in CCR units that are closing. I.   Background and Context Coal ash is produced from the burning of coal in coal-fired power plants.  According to the American Coal Ash Association, approximately 110 million tons of coal ash are generated every year, making it one of the most-generated forms of industrial waste in the United States.  While over one-third of all coal ash produced in the United States is recycled into construction materials, such as concrete or wallboard, a significant amount must be disposed of each year.  Coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium, and arsenic, which can pose environmental and health risks if not properly managed or disposed of. On April 17, 2015, the Obama Administration promulgated regulations setting federal standards for the disposal of coal ash pursuant to its authority under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, notably regulating such waste as a solid waste pursuant to Subtitle D, rather than as a hazardous waste pursuant to Subtitle C.[2]  The regulations addressed the risks associated with disposal, including leaking of contaminants into ground water, blowing into the air as dust, and catastrophic failure of coal ash surface impoundments.  EPA set certain minimum criteria consisting of location restrictions, design and operating criteria, groundwater monitoring and corrective action requirements, closure and post-closure care requirements, and record keeping, notification, and internet posting requirements. It also required unlined CCR surface impoundments contaminating groundwater above certain protection standards to stop receiving wastes and either retrofit or close, except in certain circumstances. Congress subsequently passed the Water Infrastructure for Improvements to the Nation (“WIIN”) Act, signed into law on December 16, 2016, which authorized EPA-approved state permitting programs to regulate coal ash disposal.[3]  Under the WIIN Act’s Section 2301, states may develop and operate their own permitting programs that adhere to, or are at least as protective as, the EPA’s standards.  On June 18, 2018, Oklahoma became the first (and so far only) state to have its permit program approved for the management of coal ash.  The EPA regulates coal ash disposal in states that choose not to implement permitting programs or that have inadequate programs that fail to meet federal standards. II.   Amendments to the 2015 Regulations On September 13, 2017, the EPA granted petitions from certain industry groups requesting reconsideration of certain provisions of the 2015 regulations in light of the WIIN Act and other factors.  EPA announced that it anticipates completing reconsideration of all provisions in two phases:  a first phase, which includes these amendments, to be finalized no later than June 2019, and a second phase to be proposed by September 30, 2018 and finalized by December 2019. The recently signed Amendments constituting phase one, part one, make three major changes to the prior regulations governing coal ash management and disposal.  First, EPA adopted two alternative performance standards that either participating state directors in states with approved CCR permit programs, or EPA where it is the permitting authority, may apply to owners and operators of CCR units:  (1) the suspension of groundwater monitoring requirements if there is evidence that there is no potential for migration of hazardous constituents to the uppermost aquifer during the active life of the unit and post-closure care; and (2) the issuance of technical certifications in lieu of the current requirement to have professional engineers issue certifications. Second, the Amendments revise the GWPSs for the four constituents[4] which do not have established maximum contaminant levels under the Safe Drinking Water Act, in place of the background levels under 40 CFR § 257.95(h)(2).  This revision adopts national criteria as health-based standards available to facilities to use to compare against monitored groundwater concentrations and to develop cleanup goals. Finally, the Amendments extend the deadline for when CCR units closing for cause must initiate closure under two circumstances:  (1) where the facility has detected a statistically significant increase from an unlined surface impoundment above a GWPS; and (2) where the unit is unable to comply with the aquifer location restriction.  With respect to unlined surface impoundments, the Amendments extend the 90-day period in which the owner or operator is to perform the required analysis and demonstrations by 18 months, until October 31, 2020.  With respect to aquifer location restrictions, the revision extends the timeframes during which facilities may continue to use the units by the same period, until October 31, 2020.  The EPA states that this extension allows facilities time to adjust their operations and better coordinate engineering, financial, and permitting activities. Generally speaking, these changes reduce the compliance obligations for facilities managing coal ash surface impoundments and provide increased flexibility in the management of coal ash.  They also grant the industry more time for compliance with the 2015 regulations, addressing concerns about feasibility of compliance within the original deadlines. These regulations are subject to challenge, even as EPA considers additional rulemakings to address other aspects of the 2015 coal ash rule.  In addition, EPA is currently scheduled to propose revisions to the Clean Water Act’s Effluent Limitation Guidelines applicable to steam electric power generators in December 2018, potentially posing added challenges relating to overlapping compliance schedules relevant to the management and disposal of coal ash.  In light of the ongoing complexities of the regulatory landscape, owners or operators of coal ash disposal facilities should evaluate how these proposed changes will impact their operations, costs, and investments.    [1]   See Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System:  Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities; Amendments to the National Minimum Criteria (Phase One, Part One); Final Rule (83 Fed. Reg. 36435, July 30, 2018) (hereinafter, the “Amendments”).    [2]   40 C.F.R. § 257 pt. D.    [3]   Water Infrastructure for Improvements to the Nation Act, Pub. L. No. 114-322, 130 Stat. 1628 (2016).    [4]   These four constituents are cobalt, lithium, molybdenum, and lead. The following Gibson Dunn lawyers assisted in the preparation of this client alert: Avi Garbow and Courtney Aasen. Gibson Dunn’s lawyers are available to assist with any questions you may have regarding these issues.  For additional information about this regulatory change and other regulations affecting the management and disposal of coal ash, or related litigation, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work or the following leaders of the firm’s Environmental Litigation and Mass Tort practice group: Avi S. Garbow (+1 202-955-8558, agarbow@gibsondunn.com) Daniel W. Nelson (+1 202-887-3687, dnelson@gibsondunn.com) Peter E. Seley (+1 202-887-3689, pseley@gibsondunn.com) © 2018 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

July 2, 2018 |
Who’s Who Legal Recognizes Five Gibson Dunn Partners in Energy

Five Gibson Dunn partners were recognized in Who’s Who Legal’s Energy 2018 guide:  Houston partners Michael Darden and Hillary Holmes, London partner Anna Howell, Singapore partner Brad Roach, and Washington, D.C. partner William Scherman. Additionally, Brad Roach was recognized as a Thought Leader in energy. The guide recognizes lawyers based on their “experience advising on some of the world’s most significant and cutting-edge legal matters.” The list was published July 2, 2018.

June 1, 2018 |
Houston Business Journal Names Justin Stolte to its 40 under 40

Justin Stolte has been named to Houston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Class of 2018, featuring “aspirational young professionals” selected for “leadership, overcoming challenges and community involvement.” His profile ran June 1, 2018.  

May 25, 2018 |
Gibson Dunn Receives Chambers USA Excellence Award

At its annual USA Excellence Awards, Chambers and Partners named Gibson Dunn the winner in the Corporate Crime & Government Investigations category. The awards “reflect notable achievements over the past 12 months, including outstanding work, impressive strategic growth and excellence in client service.” This year the firm was also shortlisted in nine other categories: Antitrust, Energy/Projects: Oil & Gas, Energy/Projects: Power (including Renewables), Intellectual Property (including Patent, Copyright & Trademark), Labor & Employment, Real Estate, Securities and Financial Services Regulation and Tax team categories. Debra Wong Yang was also shortlisted in the individual category of Litigation: White Collar Crime & Government Investigations. The awards were presented on May 24, 2018.  

March 19, 2018 |
FERC Takes Aim at Income Tax Over Recovery in Pipelines’ Regulated Rates

Click for PDF Last week, on March 15, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a number of orders aimed at addressing potential over-recovery of income tax in pipelines’ regulated rates.  First, in the wake of a loss in the D.C. Circuit, FERC reversed course on its long-standing policy of allowing master limited partnerships (MLPs) to include an income-tax allowance in their cost-of-service rates.  Second, FERC announced various initiatives to address potential over-recovery of taxes through cost-of-service rates that may result from the reduction in the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%.  Although the markets initially reacted quite negatively, the actual impact will not be immediate and will vary considerably from company to company. Indeed, many companies have already announced that the FERC orders will not have a material impact on their revenue. Reversal of Income Tax Policy for MLPs[1] In the wake of the unfavorable United Airlines v. FERC[2] decision, the FERC reversed its long-standing policy of allowing MLPs to include an income-tax allowance in their cost-of-service rates.  FERC issued a policy statement that found such an allowance results in an impermissible double-recovery of costs in combination with the discounted cash flow (DCF) methodology for calculating return on equity.  FERC concluded that because the DCF methodology used to calculate the return necessary to attract capital is done on a pre-tax basis, investors’ tax liability is already reflected in calculated return on equity.  Thus, FERC concluded that any allowance for income tax with respect to an MLP would result in double-recovery of those costs. A few important points to keep in mind regarding the impact of this policy change: This only impacts FERC cost-of-service rates: Oil Pipelines: For oil pipelines, market-based rates and settlement rates will be unaffected.  With respect to indexed rates, there is no automatic immediate impact.  FERC will, however, address this issue in the next reassessment of the index in 2020. Gas Pipelines:  For interstate gas pipelines negotiated rates, market-based rates, and settlement rates are not affected.  Discount rates could be impacted, but only to the extent recourse rates are reduced below the discount-rate level as a result of the implementation of this policy. The policy statement does not actually change any pipeline’s rates. Oil Pipelines:  For oil pipelines, it announces a new policy that the pipelines may no longer include an income tax allowance in their cost of service on the annual Form 6 reporting.  Once this cost-of-service data is made publically available, it certainly could lead to FERC or shippers filing a complaint pursuant to Section 13(1) of the Interstate Commerce Act to reduce rates.  In addition, FERC intends to address the impact of the tax reduction in the five year review of the oil pipeline index in 2020.  Thus, in theory, FERC could require a reduction in rates for any pipelines whose rates are set at the ceiling by setting a negative index at that time. Gas Pipelines:  For gas pipelines, FERC is proposing a one-time reporting requirement to obtain data about the impact of this policy and the reduction in the corporate tax rate on each pipeline’s cost of service as discussed in more detail below.  Again, once this cost-of-service data is made public, FERC or shippers could initiate a proceeding to reduce rates pursuant to Section 5 of the Natural Gas Act.  This result is not automatic, however. The policy statement did not decide whether other non-pass through entities (e.g., limited partnerships, LLCs, etc.) would also no longer be permitted to recover a tax allowance in their rates.  Instead, FERC deferred those issues to consideration in future rate proceedings, but made clear that the issue of double-recovery would need to be addressed in those instances.  FERC’s Order on Remand in the United Airlines case[3] seems to leave little room for FERC to reach a contrary finding or other pass-through entities, as FERC reasoned that “MLPs and similar pass-through entities do not incur income tax at the entity level” and therefore the ROE offered under the DCF methodology must be sufficient to cover the investor’s tax liability. Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Federal Income Tax Rate Reductions for Gas Pipelines[4] FERC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that seeks require natural gas pipelines to do a one-time informational filing of an “abbreviated cost and revenue study” to provide information to allow FERC to determine whether gas pipelines are over-recovering for taxes in light of the reduction in the corporate tax rate.  FERC proposed to use the same form that FERC has attached to its orders initiating Section 5 rate investigations in recent years for this informational filing.  FERC then proposes several options to address over-recoveries, including some intended to encourage pipelines to voluntarily reduce rates: Limited Section 4 Filings:  Although FERC typically does not allow pipelines to file a limited rate case to adjust individual components of rates, FERC proposed to allow pipelines to file a limited Section 4 rate case to reduce their rates by the percentage reduction in the cost of service from the decrease in the federal corporate income tax rate and the elimination of the income tax allowance for MLPs. File a Statement Explaining Why an Adjustment is Not Necessary:  If a pipeline’s reduction in cost of service from the tax cuts and elimination of income tax allowance are offset by increases in costs elsewhere or if the pipeline is overall not recovering its cost of service despite the tax decease, a pipeline can file a statement explaining why no decrease in rates is appropriate despite the income tax reduction. Commit to File a General Section 4 Rate Case (or an Uncontested Settlement):  In lieu of a limited Section 4 rate case, pipelines can commit to file a general Section 4 rate case and indicate an approximate time-frame for making such a filing.  FERC proposes that if a pipeline commits to make such a filing by December 31, 2018, FERC will not initiate a Section 5 investigation of the pipeline’s rates prior to that time. File the Information Required and Do Nothing Else:  FERC, in a somewhat disingenuous acknowledgement that it cannot legally force pipelines to file a Section 4 rate case, notes that a pipeline may simply file the required information with FERC, take no further action, and wait to see if FERC initiates a Section 5 investigation.  FERC proposes, however, to open a rate proceeding docket for each filing and issue a public notice inviting interventions and protests on the filing.  FERC will then decide whether to initiate a Section 5 proceeding based on the public comments and protests.  In sum, these procedures are strikingly similar to requiring a Section 4 rate filing. With respect to intrastate Hinshaw and Section 311 pipelines, FERC found that its existing policies are generally sufficient to address potential over-recovery resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  However, FERC does propose to require that if a pipeline adjusts its state-jurisdictional rates as a result of the Act, then the pipeline must file a new rate election within 30 days after the reduced intrastate rate becomes effective. Notice of Inquiry Regarding the Effect of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act[5] Finally, FERC opened an inquiry to solicit comments on the impacts of other aspects of tax reform on jurisdictional rates, such as the treatment of accumulated deferred income taxes and the new 100% bonus depreciation regime which applies to oil pipelines.  In this regard, FERC is particularly interested how to treat accumulated deferred income tax going forward in light of the reduction in future tax liability.  FERC is soliciting comments on various topics related to ADIT, including: How to ensure rate base continues to be treated in a manner similar to that prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act until excess and deficient ADIT is fully settled. Whether and how adjustments should be made so that rate base may be appropriately adjusted by excess and deficient ADIT. How tax allowance or expense in cost of service will be implemented to reflect the amortization of excess and deficient plant-based ADIT. FERC is also soliciting comments on the effect of the bonus depreciation change under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which increases the bonus depreciation allowance from 50% to 100% for qualified property placed into service after September 1, 2017 and before January 1, 2023. Comments are due 60 days after publication of the notice in Federal Register.    [1]   Revised Policy Statement on Treatment of Income Taxes, 162 FERC ¶ 61,227 (2018).    [2]   827 F.3d 122 (D.C. Cir. 2016).    [3]   SFPP, L.P., 162 FERC ¶ 61,228 at P 22 (2018).    [4]   Interstate and Intrastate Natural Gas Pipelines; Rate Changes Relating to Federal Income Tax Rate, 162 FERC ¶ 61,226 (2018).    [5]   Inquiry Regarding the Effect of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on Commission Jurisdictional Rates, 162 FERC ¶ 61,223 (2018). Gibson Dunn’s Energy, Regulation and Litigation lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have regarding the developments discussed above.  Please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work, or the following: William S. Scherman – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-887-3510, wscherman@gibsondunn.com) Ruth M. Porter – Washington, D.C. (+1 202-887-3666, rporter@gibsondunn.com) © 2018 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, 333 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90071 Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

March 1, 2018 |
Joint Venture Traps to Avoid

Houston partners Gerry Spedale and Hillary Holmes are the authors of “Joint Venture Traps to Avoid,” [PDF] published in Midstream Business in March 2018.

March 7, 2018 |
Intra-EU Investment Treaties: Is It Time to Restructure Your Investment?

Click for PDF Yesterday, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued its much awaited ruling on the compatibility of intra-EU bilateral investment treaties (BITs) with EU law, in Achmea B.V. (formerly known as Eureko B.V.) v. Slovakia.[1] The CJEU determined that arbitration provisions found in BITs concluded between EU Member States are incompatible with EU law.  Adopting the policy views expressed by the European Commission in recent years, the CJEU’s decision goes against the Advisory Opinion of the Attorney General Wathelet issued in September 2017[2], who had advised that there is no incompatibility with EU law.  The decision also goes against a long line of decisions from international arbitration tribunals rejecting the suggestion that EU law precludes the jurisdiction of such arbitral tribunals. The decision itself is surprisingly light in terms of its reasoning and leaves many questions unanswered.  For example, it is not clear how the CJEU ruling will impact pending disputes against EU Member States under intra-EU BITs.  It also appears to suggest that arbitration under the Energy Charter Treaty may be unaffected. However, the ruling no doubt will have consequences for the protection of foreign investments within the EU going forward.  Investors will not be able to commence arbitration proceedings under BITs between EU Member States.  Thus, in order to maximize protection from potential adverse government actions, investors from EU Member States with investments in other EU Member States should seriously consider restructuring their investments in order to ensure that they can take advantage of investment treaty protections. Background to the Dispute The question of compatibility of intra-EU BITs with EU law was brought before the CJEU following a request for preliminary ruling by the German Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) (BGH) in 2016.[3]  The BGH referred the issue to the CJEU in the context of a challenge to an arbitral award rendered under the Netherlands and Slovakia BIT of 1991 in Achmea B.V. (formerly known as Eureko B.V.) v. Slovakia in December 2012.  The Slovak Republic was seeking to set aside the UNCITRAL award before the Frankfurt courts (Frankfurt was the seat of arbitration).  The arbitral tribunal had awarded the claimant, Achmea, EUR 22.1 million plus interest and costs. The Slovakia argued inter alia that the BIT was incompatible with EU law based on certain provisions of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and that the EU courts had exclusive jurisdiction over Achmea’s claims.  The first instance court in Frankfurt initially dismissed Slovakia’s application to have the award set aside.  Slovakia subsequently appealed to the BGH, following which BGH referred the questions on incompatibility to the CJEU, while enunciating its view that the BIT was in fact compatible with EU law. Although not binding on the CJEU, the EU Advocate General (AG) also weighed in the discussion with an Advisory Opinion in September 2017 in which he opined that intra-EU BITs are indeed compatible with EU law.  The AG expressly disagreed with the European Commission’s position (which had intervened and filed written submissions in a number of intra-EU BIT arbitrations[4]) that intra-EU BITs are incompatible with EU law.[5] CJEU’s Decision The BGH’s opinion and the AG’s Advisory Opinion, however, did not sway the CJEU.  In fact, the CJEU ruled that the arbitration clause featured in the Netherlands and Slovakia BIT of 1991 has an adverse effect on the autonomy of EU law and was therefore incompatible.  The Court opined that the BIT established a mechanism for settling disputes between an investor and a Member State by an arbitral tribunal which falls outside the judicial system of the EU and thus did not ensure the full effectiveness of EU law should the dispute in question require the interpretation or application of EU law. Implications of the CJEU Decision Currently, there are more than 190 BITs between EU Member States still in force and the CJEU’s ruling today will therefore have ramifications for the future of investment protection within the EU.  Although it remains to be seen how future investment treaty tribunals will interpret the CJEU’s ruling, they may consider that they lack jurisdiction when asked to hear disputes brought by European investors against EU Member States under intra-EU BITs in light of this ruling.  At the very least, any EU national court that is asked to assist in arbitration proceedings seated in EU Member States or hear recognition/enforcement applications for investment treaty awards under intra-EU BITs would need to consider the CJEU’s ruling.  What this decision means for arbitrations taking place outside the EU or under the self-contained regime of the ICSID Convention rules, however, is unclear. From the face of the decision, it appears that the CJEU left open the question as to whether its findings would apply to the provisions of multilateral treaties, such as the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), to which the EU itself is a Party.   In particular, the CJEU appeared to distinguish between agreements only signed between two EU Member States and those signed by the EU itself (such as the ECT).  To date, all ECT tribunals that have considered jurisdictional objections based on EU law have rejected such arguments.[6] What Should Investors Consider Doing in Light of the Decision? In light of today’s ruling, it would be wise for EU based investors with investments in other EU Member States to consider restructuring their investments to ensure that their corporate structure includes at least one entity outside the EU in a country that has a BIT with the relevant EU Member State.  As has been consistently confirmed by investment treaty tribunals, re-structuring of investments before a dispute arises with a view to maximizing investment treaty protections is a legitimate business goal.  By undertaking such a restructuring, investors will ensure that they have additional remedies should they face adverse government actions against their investments.    [1]   The ruling can be accessed at curia.europa.eu.    [2]   Opinion of Advocate General Wathelet, Case C-284/16, Slowakische Republik v Achmea BV, 19 September 2017, available at: <http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:62016CC0284&from=EN>.    [3]   See the press release No. 81/2016 dated 10 May 2016, in which the BGH announced that it requested a preliminary ruling from the CJEU, available at <http://juris.bundesgerichtshof.de/cgi-bin/rechtsprechung/document.py?Gericht=bgh&Art=pm&Datum=2016&Sort=3&nr=74606&pos=2&anz=83>.    [4]   For example, in Eastern Sugar v. Czech Republic, SCC Case No. 088/2004; AES v. Hungary, ICSID Case No. ARB/07/22; Electrabel S.A. v. Hungary, ICSID Case No. ARB/07/19; Charanne v. Spain, SCC Case No. V062/2012; Isolux v. Spain, SCC Case V2013/153; Blusun v. Italy, ICSID Case No. ARB/14/3; Novenergia v Spain, SCC Case No. 2015/063; in enforcement proceedings in Micula v Romania No. 15-3109-cv (2d Cir.).    [5]   In the recent years, the Commission has been increasing pressure on arbitral tribunals hearing disputes under intra-EU BITs to decline jurisdiction and also on EU Member States.  In 2015, for example, it initiated infringement proceedings against five EU Member States (Austria, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia and Sweden) and requested them to terminate their intra-EU BITs, see press release dated 18 June 2015 available at: <http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-15-5198_en.htm>.  In late November 2017, the European Commission’s Competition Office has indicated that any compensation to be paid by EU Member States to foreign investors following successful investment treaty claims would constitute state aid requiring approval from the Commission: see report dated 10 November 2017 available at: <http://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/cases/258770/258770_1945237_333_2.pdf>.    [6]   See for example Charanne B.V. and Construction Investments S.A.R.L. v. Spain, SCC No. 062/2012; RREEF v. Spain, ICSID Case No. ARB/13/30; Eiser Infrastructure v. Spain, ICSID Case No. ARB/13/36; Blusun v. Italy, ICSID Case No. ARB/14/3; Electrabel S.A. v. Hungary, ICSID Case No. ARB/07/19. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have regarding these issues. Please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work, any member of the firm’s International Arbitration practice group, or the following: Cyrus Benson – London (+44 (0) 20 7071 4239, cbenson@gibsondunn.com) Penny Madden – London (+44 (0) 20 7071 4226, pmadden@gibsondunn.com) Jeffrey Sullivan – London (+44 (0) 20 7071 4231, jeffrey.sullivan@gibsondunn.com) Rahim Moloo – New York (+1 212-351-2413, rmoloo@gibsondunn.com) Ceyda Knoebel – London (+44 (0)20 7071 4243, cknoebel@gibsondunn.com) © 2018 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Attorney Advertising:  The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.

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