The details of services provided by a utility lawyer are less well understood than the details of the legal profession in general. Utilities law is an area of practice that encompasses regulation of public utilities: suppliers of electricity, telecommunications services, natural gas, water and sewer services, cable television, motor carriers, and ferry services. The regulations covering these services are implemented by both the federal government and state government. A utility lawyer represents her client before agencies such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”), the Federal Communication Commission (“FCC”), and state utilities commissions.
Customarily, public utilities are regulated because the government determined that the public’s interest requires protection through limiting of competition and closely monitored parameters. The scope of regulation is where the utility lawyer can provide assistance to a utility itself, a utility customer, a municipality, or a non-government entity. Regulatory analysis, advocacy, and interpretation assistance as they pertain to proceedings before any of the regulatory agencies are typical areas of practice for a utility lawyer.
In a litigation context, practitioners can assist with representing a client before a regulatory agency in seeking a license, permit or approval issued by the agency. Also, parties often seek legal representation during the course of appealing a final regulatory decision or order to the appropriate appellate court of review. The two most common litigation matters relate to utility rate cases where the supplier of the utility requests an increase in the rates it charges to its customers, and where the supplier of the utility requests approval to construct new utility infrastructure.
A utility lawyer also assists relevant parties in responding to regulatory enforcement actions, participating in the formal rulemaking process, providing counsel on compliance with laws and regulations, or transactional work where the attorney represents a party in the purchase and sale, or financing, of a utility service. In most states, a corporate entity must be represented by a licensed attorney in the subject state. It stands to reason, then, that working with a qualified utility lawyer is a wise investment for a corporation.
The advent of public utilities law began in 1978 with the enactment of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (“PURPA”), which was passed as part of the National Energy Act. PURPA was enacted to encourage energy conservation greater usage of domestic energy and renewable energy. The renewable energy side of current energy and utility law is also an area of growth in the utility lawyer profession.
In 1992, the Energy Policy Act was passed by Congress to increase clean energy use and improve overall energy efficiency in the United States, decrease the country’s dependence on non-domestic energy, and incentivize clean and renewable energy. A utility lawyer assists utility clients with the statutory goals contained in the Energy Policy Act.
Overall, the energy policies of the United States have shifted from reliance on foreign energy sources to domestic and renewable sources. The utility attorney can provide advice and representation to producers, consumers, and developers on how to properly structure various legal agreements, conduct transactions, successfully obtain permits and approvals, and provide financing for infrastructure projects.
The attorneys at Desautel Law are experienced in utility law and regulation. To learn more about how you can benefit from working with a utility lawyer, call Desautel Law at 401.477.0023 today.