Energy Regulators FERC, CFTC Finally Reach Proactive Understanding on Jurisdiction and Information Sharing

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Primary regulators of energy transactions, the Federal Energy Regulatory and Commodity Futures Trading Commissions (FERC, CFTC or jointly Participating Agencies) began the new year by entering on January 2 two overdue Memoranda of Understanding (MOU), one on overlapping jurisdictions, the other on sharing of information generated in connection with market surveillance and investigations into suspected market manipulation, fraud or abuse.  Both MOUs became effective immediately.

FERC, with jurisdiction over physical natural gas and power transactions, and the CFTC, with jurisdiction over financially settled products such as energy futures and swaps, had battled in recent years over the reach of each other’s jurisdiction, culminating in a March 2013 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit finding that FERC improperly invaded CFTC’s jurisdiction when, under authority of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, it sought to fine Amaranth Advisors trader Brian Hunter for allegedly manipulating  natural gas futures in order to increase the profitability of corresponding physical natural gas transactions.  When the Participating Agencies failed to meet the 2011 deadline of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act for reaching the jurisdictional understanding, a troika of western-state senators with energy committee portfolios – Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) – expressed concern and called on the two commissions to expedite action on an MOU.

The MOUs put in place procedures that replace a reactive status quo ante in which the two agencies collaborated and shared information, if at all, only upon the request of one or the other, with a proactive framework that obliges the staffs of both agencies to notify each other of requests from within their regulated community for authorizations or exemptions from authorization requirements that may implicate the other’s regulatory responsibilities.  Once so notified, the Notified Agency must promptly inform the Notifying Agency that it (1) has no interest, (2) has an interest, triggering a consultative process between the staffs of the Participating Agencies, or (3) wants to revisit the issue once a regulated company has filed request for an authorization or exemption or the Notifying Agency has instigated sua sponte an authorization or exemption.  If (2) is selected, then the triggered consultative process will seek to determine whether the CFTC has jurisdiction under the Commodity Exchange Act or FERC has jurisdiction under the Federal Power, Natural Gas or Natural Gas Policy Acts, with disputes elevated from staff to directors and ultimately to the respective commissioners.  While the jurisdictional MOU imposes these obligations on the Participating Agencies, it expressly creates no private right of action that could be enforced by a regulated company or other third party.

The MOU on information sharing obligates the Participating Agencies to share information needed in connection with each other’s market surveillance or investigations into suspected manipulation, fraud or market power abuse in markets that the requesting Participating Agency regulates.  FERC is authorized to seek from the CFTC information from (1) designated contract markets, (2) registered swap execution facilities, (3) registered derivatives clearing organizations, (4) boards of trade and (5) market participants.  The CFTC, on the other hand, is authorized to seek from FERC information from (1) regional transmission organizations or independent system operators, (2) the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, (3) interstate natural gas pipelines and storage facility operators, and (4) market participants.  Specific provisions of the MOU obligate both Participating Agencies to take all actions reasonably necessary to preserve, protect and maintain privileges and claims of confidentiality for non-public information.  Sharing information pursuant to the MOU expressly does not constitute a waiver of any privilege or protection attached to the shared information.