BP West Coast Products, LLC v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and United States of America [Part II]
BP West Coast Products, LLC v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and United States of America
Part II of III
Because the record contained sufficient evidence on which the Commission could find that SPPL faced significantly lower risks than SFSP in 1985, and SFPP concedes that the Commission may depart from an actual capital structure in the starting rate base formula where it is not representative of a pipeline's risks, the court has no occasion to decide whether the Commission improperly relied on non-record material from Moody's Transportation Manual regarding the poor financial condition of the Southern Pacific Railroad during the relevant period. Nor need we decide whether the Commission's other basis for departing from SFSP's 1985 capital structure-its concern that SFSP's 78.29% equity component would yield an exorbitantly high starting rate base-would suffice to uphold its decision. Accordingly, we affirm the Commission's starting rate base decision.
B. Cost Issues
1. Income Tax Allowance
As one element of the cost of service allowable to SFPP, FERC included a 42.7% income tax allowance reflecting the interest in the regulated entity held by a subchapter C corporation. All petitioners assigned this tax allowance as error. The shipper petitioners, and intervenors supporting them, allege as error the recognition of any income tax allowance as SFPP is a limited partnership that pays no income taxes. SFPP alleges as error the denial of a full income tax allowance. Because FERC has not established that its 42.7% allowance is the product of reasoned decisionmaking and indeed has provided no rational basis for this part of its order, we find that allowance to have been erroneous and we vacate.
There is no question that as a general proposition a pipeline that pays income taxes is entitled to recover the costs of the taxes paid from its ratepayers. We explained this proposition thoroughly in City of Charlottesville v. FERC, 774 F.2d 1205 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (Scalia, J.). While we will not fully discuss the analysis set forth in that decision, we will briefly review the basic principles as background for the current controversy.
The Commission must ensure that the rates of jurisdictional pipelines are ''just and reasonable.'' Id. at 1207 (quoting 15 U.S.C. § 717c(a) (1982)). This means that using the principles of cost of service ratemaking, Commission-approved rates must yield ''sufficient revenue to cover all proper costs,'' and provide an appropriate return on capital. Id. (citing Pub. Serv. Co. of New Mexico v. FERC, 653 F.2d 681, 683 (D.C. Cir. 1981)). Taxes, including federal income taxes, are costs. See id. at 1207. The difficulty in the application of this seemingly straightforward principle arises when ''the utility is part of a consolidated group,'' only a portion of which is regulated. Id. Historically, the Commission has employed two differing methodologies for attribution of tax costs in dealing with this difficulty. Again, City of Charlottesville provides the background for understanding the two methodologies. Under the older, ''flow-through'' methodology, the Commission ''derive[d] an effective tax rate by determining the ratio of each [regulated] pipeline's taxable income to the total taxable income of all affiliates, multipl[ied] this fraction by the group's consolidated tax liability, and divide[d] this figure by the pipeline's taxable income.'' Id. at 1207. Under the more recently derived ''stand-alone'' methodology, the Commission has sought to segregate the regulated utility, then determine ''the taxable income and deductions ... specifically attributable to the utility's jurisdictional activities.'' Id. Under this approach, the Commission then applies ''the statutory tax rate ... to the tax base to yield the stand-alone tax allowance.'' Id. The present controversy arises from the fact that neither of these historic methods can by its terms be literally applied to the rates of SFPP.
The name of the jurisdictional pipeline operator explains the origin of the difficulty. SFPP, L.P., is a limited partnership - specifically a publicly-traded one. Both the flowthrough and stand-alone methodologies presume taxable income generated by the regulated entity. Each arose in the context of corporate ownership of a jurisdictional pipeline by a tax-paying corporation which is part of an affiliated group. Shipper petitioners concede that were SFPP a subchapter C corporation, a tax allowance would be appropriate in order ''to insure that the regulated entity has the opportunity to earn its allowed return on equity.'' Lakehead, 71 FERC at 62,314. But a limited partnership operating jurisdictional pipelines incurs no income tax liability. 26 U.S.C. § 7704(d)(1)(E). Therefore, shipper petitioners contend there is no rational basis for FERC to approve an income tax allowance for a limited partnership that incurs no income taxes. Thus, shippers argue, FERC erred in allowing even a 42.7% tax allowance in the rates of SFPP.
Shippers raised this argument before the Commission and the Commission discussed it in Opinion No. 435. See 86 FERC at 61,101-07; see also Opinion No. 435-A, 91 FERC at 61,508-09; Opinion No. 435-B, 96 FERC at 62,077-78. In all of its iterations, FERC's discussion of the issue has been in terms of the ''Lakehead policy.'' FERC first announced that policy in Lakehead, 71 FERC ¶ 61,338, and offered certain clarifications of the policy in Lakehead II, 75 FERC ¶ 61,181. That case also involved ratemaking of a limited partnership. In Lakehead, the Commission declared that where a regulated pipeline is a non-taxed limited partnership, it will not be permitted the same tax allowance as it would if the pipeline company were a corporation. However, FERC further ruled that where the limited partnership includes corporate partners, it would treat the partnership as being ''in essence a division of each of its corporate partners'' for purposes of determining an income tax component in the partnership's cost of service computation. Lakehead, 71 FERC at 62,315. Importantly, FERC's opinion in Lakehead was never subjected to judicial review, and neither this court nor any other circuit has ever passed on the validity of the Lakehead policy. Therefore, while FERC may deem itself bound to follow that policy, we are not so bound and consider its validity for the first time in this application. All petitioners urge us to reject it in whole or in part, though for differing reasons.
Commencing with the assumption that it should apply the Lakehead policy to SFPP's ratemaking, FERC considered the question before it to be the determination of how that policy applied to a limited partnership composed of one partner (or partners) that is a subchapter C (taxpaying) corporation and other partners that are not subchapter C corporations but rather individuals, subchapter S corporations, trusts, or other entities that do not incur corporate 31 income tax. FERC's analysis is rooted in the rationale offered in Lakehead, discussed in the ALJ Decision, see 80 FERC at 65,179, and adopted by the Commission in Opinion No. 435, see 86 FERC at 61,102. The Commission bases that rationale on the ''double taxation'' incurred in the context of subchapter C corporations, in which the profitmaking corporation is liable for corporate income tax and the shareholders of the corporation are individually liable for their individual income tax on dividends generated by the profitmaking corporations. The Commission in Lakehead ruled that ''because the corporate tax is an extra layer of taxation, the Commission includes an element for the corporate taxes in the costof-service to insure that the regulated entity has the opportunity to earn its allowed return on equity.'' 71 FERC at 62,314. This same rationale guided the Commission's computation of tax allowance for the nontaxpaying limited partnership, including one or more subchapter C partners, throughout the Lakehead administrative litigation and the SFPP ratemaking now before us. Because SFPP, Inc., a subchapter C corporation, held a 42.7% interest in the SFPP limited partnership, the Commission included in the cost of service computation for SFPP, L.P., a 42.7% allowance for income taxes that would have been incurred had the pipeline's jurisdictional earnings been subject to corporate taxation. 86 FERC at 61,103.
Shippers contend that FERC erred in including this income tax allowance, arguing that the ALJ was correct that because no income taxes have been or will be paid on SFPP's partnership income, the inclusion of an income tax allowance in the cost of service constitutes allowance for ''phantom taxes.'' Id. SFPP, on the other hand, contends that the 42.7% allowance is in fact inadequate to reflect cost of service. It argues that the Lakehead policy results in an understatement of the appropriate income tax allowance, and that the Commission should have applied a version of the ''stand-alone'' methodology discussed above, treating the regulated entity as if it alone were responsible for taxes which would have been incurred on the same income had the jurisdictional pipeline been a taxable corporation.
Because we conclude that FERC's rationale does not support its conclusion, we hold that inclusion of the 42.7% income tax allowance in the cost of service computation was erroneous and we vacate FERC's order to that effect. We further conclude that SFPP's arguments are not well-taken and reject the proposition that FERC should have included the 100% allowance that SFPP seeks. We further conclude that the shipper petitioners offer a convincing analysis consistent with ratemaking principles and governing law, and that on the record before us SFPP is entitled to no allowance for the phantom income taxes it did not pay.
We cannot conclude that FERC's inclusion of the income tax allowance in SFPP's rates is the product of reasoned decisionmaking. In Lakehead, as re-adopted in the opinion before us, the ''reasoning'' consists of a recitation of separately unassailable statements that do not together constitute a syllogism leading to the conclusion purportedly based on them. The Commission in Lakehead reasoned that:
l. Under cost-of-service ratemaking principles a regulated company is entitled to rates that yield sufficient revenue to cover its appropriate costs.
2. Income tax allowance is no different from the allowance for any other costs.
3. When the regulated entity is organized as a corporation, its revenues are taxed at the corporate tax rate and the earnings of the owners (shareholders) of the corporation are then taxed on dividends at their particular rate.
71 FERC at 62,314.
To that point the Commission's statements are unassailable. However, the Commission follows these statements with a rather cryptic statement. ''Because the corporate tax is an extra layer of taxation, the Commission includes an element for the corporate taxes in the cost-of-service to ensure that the regulated entity has the opportunity to earn its allowed return on equity. However, there is no allowance for the taxes paid by the owners of the corporation.'' Id. Again, the second of these two sentences is inarguable, but it is not at all clear what the Commission means by the first. It would seem to follow from the Commission's own reasoning in the preceding elements of analysis, as well as fundamental principles of ratemaking, that if the corporate tax is to be included in the cost-of-service, it is not because it is ''an extra layer of taxation,'' but rather because it is a cost. Id. In the Commission's own words, a tax allowance is ''no different from the allowance for any other costs.'' Id. Presumably whatever tax rate was applicable to a tax-paying regulated entity would be included in the cost-of-service analysis, nor does anything said by the Commission in Lakehead or in the opinions before us dispute that presumption. From this line of ''reasoning,'' FERC proceeded to conclude that the limited partnership operating a jurisdictional pipeline ''is entitled to an income tax allowance with respect to income attributable to its corporate partners.'' Id. The only further explanation that FERC offers for this conclusion is ''when partnership interests are held by corporations, the partnership is entitled to a tax allowance in its cost-of-service for those corporate interests because the tax costs will be passed on to the corporate owners who must pay corporate income taxes on their allocated share of income directly on their tax returns.'' Id.
The Commission then goes on to ''conclude[ ] that [the limited partnership pipeline] should not receive an income tax allowance with respect to income attributable to the limited partnership interests held by individuals ... because those individuals do not pay a corporate income tax.'' Id. at 62,315. Presumably, however, the individual owners pay individual income taxes. Also, presumably many owners (shareholders) of corporate holders of limited partnership interests will not be paying taxes on dividends as corporations often do not generate dividends. In the original Lakehead opinion, the Commission had little further to say about why it distinguished between the corporate taxes of corporate unit holders and the individual income taxes of individual unit holders. In Lakehead II, and in the opinions we review today, the Commission did offer some attempt to explain the distinction.
In Lakehead II, FERC considered the argument of the Lakehead limited partnership that the Commission's refusal to grant a tax allowance reflecting the tax liabilities of all limited partnership unit holders, whether or not each holder was a subchapter C corporation, did not comport with the Commission's own ''actual taxes paid'' rationale, because the Commission, under the ''stand-alone'' tax policy discussed above, would permit ''a regulated entity to collect a fair tax allowance even where no actual tax liability is incurred.'' Lakehead II, 75 FERC at 61,594. Lakehead II went on to argue that under this rationale, even if the jurisdictional entity is a non-taxed limited partnership, ''rate payers should be responsible for the tax liability otherwise associated with the revenue generated from the jurisdictional activities, without regard to any actual amount paid to the IRS.'' Id. In rejecting the argument, the Commission stated, no doubt correctly, that in the case of a jurisdictional corporate subsidiary of a corporate group, ''the allowed equity return generates an actual tax liability for the pipeline that must be paid to the IRS, either in cash or through the use of another member's deductions.... [E]ither way, the tax liability of the jurisdictional company is a real cost of providing service.'' Id. at 61,595 (citing Northern Border Pipeline Co., 67 FERC ¶ 61,194, 61,110-11 (1994)). As applied to tax liability generating corporate subsidiaries engaged in jurisdictional activities, the Commission's statement is again quite defensible, when such a subsidiary does not itself incur a tax liability but generates one that might appear on a consolidated return of the corporate group. The difficulty arose when the Commission attempted to take the next step and explain why this reasoning applied to an entity that is a non-taxable limited partnership and to justify discriminating between allowances for the tax liability of corporate unit holders and the tax liability of those unit holders who are individuals or otherwise not subchapter C corporations. The Commission's reasoning on that point extends for two more paragraphs, but is summarized in the following statement immediately following the last quoted language from Lakehead II:
"In contrast, there is no corporate tax liability associated with individual partners' equity return and therefore it is not appropriate to allow Lakehead to collect for such amounts in its cost-of-service."
Id. This does not supply reasoning for differentiating between individual and corporate tax liability. It is merely restating the proposition that the Commission is so differentiating. Otherwise stated, the Commission is once again simply declaring: we are including a tax allowance for corporate tax liability; we are not allowing a deduction for individual income tax liability. To re-phrase a proposition is not the same as supplying supporting reasoning. In short, the Commission's opinions in Lakehead do not evidence reasoned decisionmaking for their inclusion in cost of service of corporate tax allowances for corporate unit holders, but denial of individual tax allowances reflecting the liability of individual unit holders.
Nonetheless, we could sustain the Commission's decision if the opinions we review had added the reasoned decisionmaking lacking in Lakehead. They do not. Before the court, the Commission's counsel argues that the distinction is justified in the reasoning offered by the ALJ in the portion of his decision affirmed by the Commission. The ALJ, attempting to apply the Lakehead policy, had reasoned that ''investors in a regulated pipeline are entitled to a return 'commensurate with returns on investments in other enterprises having corresponding risk.' '' ALJ Decision, 80 FERC at 65,177 (quoting FPC v. Hope Natural Gas Co., 320 U.S. 591, 603 (1944)). Still struggling with the Lakehead policy which had permitted a corporate income tax allowance but not an allowance for the tax liability of other investors in the limited partnership, the ALJ concluded ''because there is no dual taxation, a tax allowance is not necessary to ensure that an individual limited partner obtains a 'commensurate return.' '' Id. We agree that the ALJ's invocation of the Hope Natural Gas Co. principle was apt, but unlike the Commission, we agree that the conclusion he based it on was sound.
The Hope Natural Gas decision did not itself involve attribution of tax liability for purposes of determining allowances and ratemaking. It did however, apply general principles of ratemaking that are instructive in that context. As the Commission argues to us, that decision teaches that the Commission's ratemaking function involves ''a pragmatic assessment of whether the rates prescribed for a pipeline will support its services and provide a reasonable return to its investors.'' FERC Br. 60 (citing Hope Natural Gas, 320 U.S. at 602; Farmers II, 734 F.2d at 1502). However, the Commission's premise again does not lead to the Commission's conclusion. The ALJ correctly derived from Hope Natural Gas the more specific principle that the regulating commission is to set rates in such a fashion that the regulated entity yields returns for its investors commensurate with returns expected from an enterprise of like risks. Were the corporate unit holders investing in a non-regulated entity of like risk and otherwise similar return, they would of course expect to pay their own corporate tax on any profit they might realize from that investment. Should that profit generate dividends from the corporations, the shareholders would e havxpect to pay their own taxes on such dividends. Likewise, individual investors in such a non-regulated enterprise would expect to pay their individual taxes thereon. Granted, the second group of investors would pay one level of taxation; the first group, at least potentially, two layers of taxation. This is a product of the corporate form, not of the regulated or unregulated nature of the pipeline or any comparable investment or of the risks involved therein. Therefore, consistent with Hope Natural Gas, the ALJ correctly concluded that where there is no tax generated by the regulated entity, either standing alone or as part of a consolidated corporate group, the regulator cannot create a phantom tax in order to create an allowance to pass through to the rate payer. The Commission erred when it rejected the ALJ's conclusion.
As we have recited repeatedly above, and as the Commission itself has recognized in this very proceeding, under costof-service principles, a regulated company is entitled to a rate design to yield sufficient revenue to cover its appropriate cost; income tax allowance is no different from the allowance of any other costs. The regulated pipeline generates many costs, for example bookkeeping expenses. Presumably those bookkeeping expenses are recoverable in its rates. Its corporate unit holders, if any, presumably also have bookkeeping expenses. The bookkeeping expenses of the corporate unit holders are not recoverable in the rates of the pipeline, even though the corporation and its shareholders each may independently be paying bookkeepers and accountants unlike individual unit holders who pay only for their own accounting. All of this makes sense. It makes equal sense when applied to income taxes.
SFPP, while raising its own objections to the Lakehead policy, joins the Commission in opposing the shipper petitioners' arguments that no income tax allowance should be included in the ratemaking. SFPP, however, argues that the Commission not only did not err in including the potential tax liability of its corporate unit holders, it instead erred in not including the potential tax liability of its individual or other non-subchapter C corporate unit holders. That argument serves to illustrate further why the ALJ was correct in including no such pass-through or phantom taxes at all. Under the Commission's present order, the imputed tax liability of the corporate unit holders creates an allowance included in the making of the rate for the pipeline. The ratepayers pay that rate for the product shipped, but the allocation of the nontaxed profit of the limited partnership pipeline is, so far as the record reflects, subject to division among the unit holders rateably according to their interest in the limited partnership, not affected by how their share of the profits will ultimately be taxed. Therefore, even if the Commission's goal of changing the risk analysis of ''double-taxed'' investors were a valid one, it is not being accomplished. The inclusion of the phantom taxes in the rate changes the profit margin for all unit holders in the untaxed limited partnership, not just those who are under a particular tax structure. Therefore, SFPP may well be correct that if such an allowance were allowable at all, it should have been allowed for the imputed taxes potentially incurred by all unit holders who realized taxable income from the untaxed profits of the limited partnership of the pipeline. For the reasons set forth above, we hold that the first step of this analysis is erroneous - that is, we hold that no such allowance should be included.
Both FERC and SFPP argue that the position we adopt today is inconsistent with the ''stand-alone'' methodology approved by this court in City of Charlottesville, for reasons related to the so-called ''actual tax'' principle discussed therein. City of Charlottesville, 774 F.2d at 1207, 1215. Again, we will not rehash the full analysis of City of Charlottesville, but simply will remind SFPP that the stand-alone principle as approved in City of Charlottesville dealt with the imputation of taxes within a corporate structure where the imputation was made necessary not by the non-taxable, non-corporate nature of the regulated entity, but by the allocation of profits and losses among the related members maintaining separate balance sheets within a consolidated corporate group. While it is true that then-Judge Scalia posited the applicability of the stand-alone methodology to a circumstance in which taxes were ''not necessarily paid,'' id. at 1215, that analysis dealt with the use of ''actual or estimated taxes paid or incurred'' rather than being limited to actual taxes paid. But the part of the City of Charlottesville opinion in which that discussion occurred dealt with the argument that the taxes, though properly estimated and actually incurred, might not ever be actually paid because of such factors as losses generated in the corporate structure, or the allocation of profits 3between and among taxable years in such a fashion as to result in a different tax actually being paid, if any at all. See id. at 1214-15. Nothing in the City of Charlottesville opinion suggests that it is the business of the Commission to create tax liability when neither an actual nor estimated tax is ever going to be paid or incurred on the income of the utility in the ratemaking proceeding.
Finally, SFPP argues that adopting the Lakehead policy and applying it to this case to restrict the allowance to the taxes of the corporate unit holders as opposed to imputing the taxes of all unit holders ''runs directly contrary to legislation in which Congress expressly sought to encourage the publicly traded partnership formed for oil pipelines and other selected industries.'' Underlying this argument is Congress's 1987 enactment of Section 7704 of the Internal Revenue Code. 26 U.S.C. § 7704 (added by Pub L. 100-203, Title X, § 10211(a), Dec. 22, 1987, 101 Stat. 1330-403). Under Section 7704, Congress decreed that, in general, publicly traded limited partnerships would be taxed as corporations. However, Congress made the policy decision that for a limited number of industries, including ''pipelines transporting gas, oil, or products thereof,'' limited partnerships should operate without taxation to encourage investment in those critical industries. Id. § 7704(d)(1)(E). SFPP argues that because Congress singled out a narrow category of enterprises with the intent to facilitate investment in such enterprises by providing a taxefficient means to raise capital, FERC's policy is inconsistent with congressional intent because it provides a smaller incentive than would be the case if it granted an allowance for phantom taxes based on all unit holders instead of simply the corporate ones. This is a classic case of an argument proving too much.
SFPP's argument would equally apply to any decision by the Commission that caused the pipeline lower allowances rather than higher. Unsurprisingly, SFPP is able to offer no precedent for the proposition that we should compel the Commission, or any other agency, to adopt a rate structure bringing it into line with the perceived intent of Congress to achieve objectives in general, as opposed to consistency with the mandate adopted by Congress in furtherance of such objectives. As we have noted in other contexts, congressional mandates to agencies to carry out ''specific statutory directive[ s] define[ ] the relevant functions of [the agency] in a particular area.'' Michigan v. EPA, 268 F.3d 1075, 1084 (D.C. Cir. 2001). Such a mandate does not create for the agency ''a roving commission'' to achieve those or ''any other laudable goal.'' Id. The mandate of Congress in the tax amendment was exhausted when the pipeline limited partnership was exempted from corporate taxation. It did not empower FERC to do anything, let alone to create an allowance for fictitious taxes.
For the reasons set forth above, we vacate the tax-allowance portion of the FERC opinion and order allowing recovery for income taxes not incurred and not paid.
2. Litigation Costs
This case has been an expensive one. At the time of the ALJ Decision, 80 FERC ¶ 63,013, SFPP sought to recover $15.1 million for litigation expenses and associated costs related to Commission and certain civil litigation. This included a $12 million litigation expenses reserve plus $3.1 million that SFPP claimed was a direct expense associated with this rate proceeding and related civil litigation. By the time this case reached its second rehearing in 2001, Opinion No. 435-B, SFPP's actual costs appear to have ballooned much higher; the pipeline's 2002 compliance filing places its cumulative costs litigating this rate proceeding, as well as litigating and settling related civil litigation, at over $48.1 million.
a. Rate Litigation
In keeping with Iroquois Gas Transmission Sys. v. FERC, 145 F.3d 398 (D.C. Cir. 1998), and its own precedents, the Commission considered SFPP's rate litigation to be ''part of its normal, ongoing operations'' and allowed SFPP to recover these costs from shippers. It did not, however, permit recovery through a permanent rate increase. Reasoning that SFPP's regulatory litigation costs, if ''includ[ed] in embedded rates,'' would ''artificially inflate the level of rates between rate cases,'' because the rate proceeding that caused most of the costs was now over and was not likely soon to recur, the Commission refused to factor them into SFPP's indexed rates. Instead, the Commission allowed SFPP to recover its actual regulatory litigation costs in the form of an amortized five-year surcharge, with recovery of costs incurred after the 1994 test year offset by the amount which SFPP had collected in excess of the just and reasonable rates from shippers that did not file complaints within the appropriate period. The court reviews, therefore, two distinct decisions of the Commission: to use a temporary surcharge in lieu of a rate increase to recover SFPP's rate litigation costs, and to offset the post-1994 surcharge by the amount of reparations that would have been due non-complaining shippers.
No party challenges the Commission's decision that SFPP's rate litigation costs are recoverable. This does not mean, however, that SFPP was automatically entitled to have those expenses treated as part of its indexed rates, as if the unusually high costs it incurred in this proceeding would regularly recur until the next rate proceeding. SFPP contends that it was entitled to have a litigation reserve factored into its cost of service, because it incurred significant regulatory litigation expenses in the test year, 1994, and was bound to continue to incur costs litigating matters before the Commission in the future. Yet nothing in the record suggests that any other matters SFPP has pending before the Commission will generate costs close to those in this rate proceeding. A glance at SFPP's compliance filing confirms that its litigation expenses have dropped significantly from the levels they reached between 1994 and 1997. The Commission's reasoning for denying the rate increase, that there was ''no assurance that SFPP's litigation costs would exceed $2,914,114 a year for the several years that the 1994 rates are likely to remain in effect,'' Opinion No. 435-B, 96 FERC at 62,075, seems quite reasonable. The Commission has not denied all recovery of these costs but simply limited SFPP's recovery to its actual costs defending this proceeding and required that those costs be removed from rates once they were repaid.
Where the Commission took a more novel approach was in how it implemented this surcharge. While SFPP was permitted to recover its 1993 and 1994 regulatory litigation costs in full, the Commission offset the surcharge for later years by the amount SFPP had collected, in excess of rates ultimately set by the Commission, from shippers that did not challenge the rates and were therefore not entitled to reparations. SFPP contends that this novel approach of deducting ''unclaimed reparations'' from the surcharge deprived it of a full recovery, because, in effect, it recovered nothing at all for litigation costs incurred after the test year.
Although the Commission does not cite any precedent for this offset, the apparent novelty of this approach does not render it unreasonable. As the Commission noted, the costs of this proceeding were ''high for all parties,'' and the issue is ''how those costs can be most equitably allocated.'' Id. at 62,074. In setting prospective rates, the Commission could reasonably conclude that because SFPP had reaped a windfall by charging rates in excess of those ultimately deemed just and reasonable in the same past years for which it was claiming supplemental expenses above those it would prospectively incur as part of its cost of service, it should be required to first fund its litigation expenses out of that pool before it could begin charging those costs to its customers anew. While SFPP contends that this unfairly benefits shippers that sat on their rights by not filing complaints against SFPP's rates, and that Section 16 of the ICA only authorizes reparations for shippers who have filed such challenges, see 49 U.S.C. app. § 16(1) (1988), it presents no justification for being entitled to keep this windfall. The court therefore affirms the Commission's surcharge mechanism and its corresponding offset, subject to the qualification that, depending on what rates ultimately result from this proceeding on remand, the surcharge might require recalculation.
b. Civil Litigation Expenses
SFPP also challenges the Commission's decision to disallow recovery in the East Line rates of significant expenses SFPP incurred in civil litigation defending its reversal of flow on a segment of six-inch pipe running between Phoenix and Tucson. SFPP's flow reversal removed capacity from the East Line in order to allocate it to the West Line. While this benefitted West Line shippers, it would be, as the Commission recognized, inequitable to include these costs in the East Line rates, for ''there appears no reason why ratepayers should bear the expense of defending conduct that had no ex ante prospect of benefitting them.'' See Iroquois Gas, 145 F.3d at 401; see also Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Co. v. FCC, 939 F.2d 1035, 1043 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (''Mountain States I''). The Commission's recognition that litigation of this sort lacks the requisite nexus to the provision of SFPP's East Line service to justify inclusion in those rates was not unreasonable.
SFPP was embroiled in lengthy litigation in Arizona and Texas state courts with EPR and Navajo, two East Line shippers, regarding SFPP's reversal of flow on the six-inch line, one of SFPP's two pipes running between Phoenix and Tucson. That litigation ultimately cost SFPP, according to its 2002 compliance filing, over $23.7 million. SFPP also has an eight-inch pipe running between the two cities. The sixinch line had been in West Line service from 1989 to 1991. When SFPP undertook an expansion of the eight-inch line (which had been in East Line service) SFPP temporarily assigned the six-inch line to the East Line. Upon completion of the expansion project, SFPP entered an agreement with ARCO, a West Line shipper, to return the six-inch line to West Line service, thus restoring West Line service to Tucson. EPR and Navajo sued to enjoin the reversal, alleging that SFPP had contractually agreed to provide them the 'sextra capacity, that they had engaged in costly investments in reliance on those agreements, and that the line reversal was motivated by a desire to drive the two shippers out of business. As noted, EPR also filed a complaint with the Commission challenging both the flow reversal and SFPP's East Line rates, thereby initiating this rate proceeding. The ALJ dismissed the portion of EPR's complaint dealing with the flow reversal for lack of jurisdiction, noting that because the Commission has no jurisdiction to prevent SFPP from abandoning service on the six-inch line, it also lacks authority to adjudicate allocation disputes as between shippers serving different markets along the line. ALJ Decision, 80 FERC at 65,161-64. No party has sought review of that ruling. The litigation then proceeded in other courts with SFPP ultimately entering into settlements with both shippers.
The ELS' lawsuit based on SFPP's reallocation of capacity from the East Line to the West Line, and the corresponding litigation costs incurred by SFPP, while caused, in the immediate sense, by ELS, were not costs of East Line service or expenditures benefitting the SFPP system generally. They were costs, if anything, of making capacity available to the West Line at the East Line's expense. SFPP did not seek to recover its costs from West Line shippers, either in the cost of service or by capitalizing them into the rate base, presumably because of the Commission's earlier ruling that the West Line rates were grandfathered under Section 1803 of the EPAct, and therefore not subject to increase in this proceeding. Instead, SFPP sought to recover them from East Line shippers.
The Commission rejected this attempt, concluding that SFPP's costs in settling these matters ''arose out of litigation unique to the conditions of [EPR and Navajo],'' and, as such, were not costs that related to the provision of East Line service as a whole. Opinion No. 435, 86 FERC at 61,106. On rehearing, the Commission ruled that the costs of litigating these matters were not recoverable, because ''civil litigation of this type'' involving ''assertions of anti-competitive behavior and breach of contract to make capacity available'' does not ''address legal costs and remedies that SFPP would normally incur in the conduct of its common carrier operations.'' Opinion No. 435-A, 91 FERC at 61,513. Therefore, the Commission concluded, SFPP's litigation expenses were ''extraordinary.'' Id. On further rehearing, the Commission reaffirmed its ruling that SFPP could not recover such litigation costs in its rates. Opinion No. 435-B, 96 FERC at 62,070.
Under the Commission's accounting regulations, extraordinary costs are defined as costs that ''possess a high degree of abnormality and [are] of a type clearly unrelated to, or only incidentally related to the ordinary and typical activities of the entity'' and are ''not reasonably expected to recur in the in the foreseeable future,'' 18 C.F.R. pt. 352, General Instructions, 1-6(a). SFPP's flow reversal was not itself unique, for it had changed the direction of flow on the six-inch line a year before during the expansion of the eight-inch line. Nevertheless, as none of these prior reversals had generated legal disputes of this scope, the Commission could reasonably conclude that this type of civil litigation, ''an action that would not arise in the normal course of the pipeline's operations,'' was not likely to recur. Opinion No. 435-B, 96 FERC at 62,070.
The remaining question is whether the Commission used the correct standard in determining that these costs were ''clearly unrelated to, or only incidentally related to the ordinary and typical activities of the entity.'' SFPP contends that any reading of this portion of the Commission's regulations must comply with Iroquois Gas, 145 F.3d 398, and Mountain States I, 939 F.2d at 1034, particularly the latter decision's admonition that ''[i]f expenses are properly incurred, they must be allowed as part of the composition of rates. Otherwise, the so-called allowance of a return upon the investment, being an amount over and above the expenses, would be a farce.'' Id. at 1029 (internal citations omitted).
SFPP's position that capacity allocation litigation is an inevitable cost of doing business with two shipper camps competing for the same markets is not without some persuasiveness. The court has generally taken a somewhat broad view of which litigation costs entities regulated under rate-ofreturn ratemaking should be permitted to recover. In Iroquois Gas, the court vacated the Commission's presumptive disallowance of a gas pipeline's litigation costs defending alleged environmental violations during construction, reasoning that the Commission must analyze whether the purported environmental violations were for ratepayers' benefit rather than simply presuming the imprudence of supposedly illegal activity. 145 F.3d at 399-403. Similarly, in Mountain States I, 939 F.2d at 1029-35, the court vacated an FCC order denying a carrier's recovery of antitrust litigation expenses, and, the same term, in Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Co. v. FCC, 939 F.2d 1035 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (''Mountain States II''), remanded a rule presumptively denying recovery of litigation and judgment costs resulting from findings of illegal activity, expressing concern that such a rule might discourage utilities from taking appropriate legal risks that would ultimately benefit their ratepayers. Id. at 1042-47.
The Commission stated that it did not consider Iroquois Gas apposite because in that case, the underlying activity -construction of the pipeline pursuant to the Commission's certificate authority - was something over which the Commission had jurisdiction and whose prudence the Commission could evaluate. Opinion No. 435-B, 96 FERC at 62,070-71. By contrast, the Commission viewed SFPP's underlying business decision to reverse flow on the six-inch line as ''beyond the Commission's remedial authority.'' Proceeding on the premise that it lacks jurisdiction over market entry and exit, the Commission apparently takes the position that it is incapable of evaluating the prudence of legal expenses incurred in the course of either, and therefore cannot include them in common carrier rates.
The salient criterion under Iroquois Gas and Mountain States II for the recovery of legal expenditures by regulated entities is whether the underlying activity being defended in the litigation serves the interests of ratepayers. See Iroquois Gas, 145 F.3d at 401-02; Mountain States II, 939 F.2d at 1043-47. The court need not address whether the Commission can reasonably deny the recovery of all nonjurisdictional litigation expenses associated with ''both [market] entry and exit by the pipeline,'' Opinion No. 435-B, 96 FERC at 62,070, because the issue in this proceeding is more narrow, and arises only with regard to the inclusion of market exit costs in the East Line rates, not market entry costs in the West Line rates. Whatever might be a common carrier's entitlement to recover any nonjurisdictional litigation costs associated with the initiation of common carrier service, it is not unreasonable for the Commission to refuse to allow a common carrier to charge ratepayers for the cost of taking capacity away from them. The Commission's initial determination that the flowreversal litigation at issue was unrelated to the provision of East Line service was reasonable, and we affirm on that basis. The Commission recognized that, unlike in Iroquois Gas, SFPP's litigation did not ''arise[ ] under regulatory obligations that apply to the system as a whole,'' and noted the ''common sense observation by the East Line shippers that the costs and awards relating to their litigation will be borne primarily by themselves if the litigation and settlement costs are included in the East Line rates.'' Id. at 62,071. As only the East Line rates were at issue, the court understands the Commission's statement, that SFPP's civil legal expenses arising from the reversal dispute are not those ''that SFPP would normally incur in the conduct of its common carrier operations,'' to refer narrowly to SFPP's ''common carrier operations'' on the East Line, and not more broadly to SFPP's ''common carrier operations'' generally. This approach is reasonable, because the cost of cancelling service is not a cost of providing it.
c. Allocation of litigation costs
More problematic is the Commission's decision that the East Line rates should bear half of SFPP's recoverable litigation costs. Opinion No. 435-A, 91 FERC at 61,513. The rate proceeding included both East Line rates and the dispute about whether West Line rates were grandfathered. Some litigation costs may have been exclusive to each line, whereas others were common, but the record does not contain precise information regarding how much of SFPP's legal expenses can be attributed to each portion of the rate litigation. The West Line accounts for roughly twice the throughput of the East Line, and the Commission had initially reasoned that due to the more complex nature of the West Line issues litigated in the regulatory proceeding, costs should be apportioned volumetrically between the lines. Opinion No. 435, 86 FERC at 61,106. On rehearing, the Commission reversed itself and split the costs evenly. Opinion No. 435-A, 91 FERC at 61,512. The Commission stated that the ALJ, who initially presided over the case, was ''in a position to observe complexity and flow'' of the litigation, and could have reasonably concluded that it was the East Line issues, not the West Line issues, that accounted for the ''greater portion'' of costs generated in the proceeding. Id.
The ELS contend that the Commission departed from its well-established volumetric allocation policy for general costs without a rational basis, and thus was arbitrary and capricious in basing its allocation on which shippers created higher litigation costs. We see nothing problematic in an approach that attributes litigation costs to those for whose benefit the litigation is incurred, and prior Commission cases dealing with legal expenses have allocated them similarly. See, e.g., Southern California Edison Co., 56 FERC ¶ 61,003, 61,021 (1991). A volumetric approach might be appropriate for the recovery of commonly-incurred costs benefitting the entire system, but the Commission's focus here on who ''generate[d] the greater portion of a given litigation,'' Opinion No. 435-A, 91 FERC at 61,513, is reasonable when litigation costs are specific to separately priced services.
The problem with the Commission's litigation-cost allocation is more basic: it lacks substantive analysis. The court is unable to discern why the Commission decided that 50%, as opposed to 40%, 30%, or any other number, fairly reflects the portion of SFPP's litigation expenses attributable to the East Line. It simply claimed to rely on the ALJ Decision for the 50% figure. See 80 FERC at 65,167. The ALJ Decision, at best, implicitly adopts the allocation suggested by a Staff witness. Other than describing the Staff's proposal as being developed as a representative amount of litigation expenses for inclusion in the test year cost of service, the ALJ Decision provides no analysis of why such a distribution is warranted. Hence, the Commission's reliance on the ALJ as being in the best position to observe the ''complexity and flow'' of the litigation leaves unexplained the basis for the allocation. While most of SFPP's litigation cost recovery has been offset by unpaid reparations, and the difference in rates resulting from the allocation may ultimately not be significant, the Commission must still explain its decision. The 50% allocation may or may not be a fair reflection of SFPP's rate litigation costs that were in fact attributable to the East Line. Accordingly, we remand for the Commission to explain its rationale for its allocation, either based on a 50-50 sharing between the East and West Lines or any other allocation it determines would be appropriate.
3. Reconditioning Costs
SFPP sought to have included in its East Line rates a projected annual cost of $3 million for a 15-year pipeline reconditioning program replacing the protective coating on parts of the East Line. Before the Commission, SFPP claimed to have spent upwards of $5.9 million of these reconditioning costs between 1995 and 1998. While acknowledging SFPP's expenditures on the project, the Commission refused to incorporate those costs, most of which were not incurred until after 1995, into SFPP's cost of service because they were too uncertain at the end of the test period in 1994. Opinion No. 435, 86 FERC at 61,106-08. On rehearing, the Commission permitted SFPP to recover its actual expenses from shippers as part of the temporary surcharge it created for SFPP's rate litigation and environmental expenses. Opinion No. 435-A, 91 FERC at 61,518-19. On further rehearing, however, the Commission reversed itself again and denied SFPP all recovery of its refurbishing costs. Opinion No. 435-B, 96 FERC at 62,078-79.
Under its cost of service regulations, the Commission uses a ''test year'' methodology to determine a pipeline's annual cost of service. This approach looks to the actual costs the carrier incurs in the ''test year'' and then adjusts for any ''known and measurable with reasonably accuracy'' costs that ''will become effective within nine months after the last month of the available actual experience utilized in the filing.'' 18 C.F.R. § 346.2(a)(1)(ii) (2004). The test year methodology accounts for the somewhat counterintuitive quality of these proceedings. The Commission, in issuing decisions after 1999 setting SFPP's cost of service for years after 1994, looked not to SFPP's actual costs in those years but rather to what one could have predicted those costs to be, based on what was known in 1994. The Commission noted in Opinion No. 435 that it considers the test year a ''relatively rigid concept simply because there must be some point at which the record closes and there is a known, factual basis for the conclusions.'' 86 FERC at 61,108. Although this statement appears to mark a change from Commission policy in cases preceding the implementation of its cost of service regulations, where it indicated that it would approach test years more flexibly, see, e.g., Lakehead, 71 FERC at 62,313; Williams Pipe Line Co., 21 FERC at 61,658, the Commission's current cost of service regulations provide that it ''may allow reasonable deviation from the test period'' for ''good cause shown.'' 18 C.F.R. § 346.2(a)(1)(ii).
The ALJ, using 1993 as the base year, decided that the refurbishing costs could not be recovered as part of SFPP's cost of service because the costs had not yet been incurred at that time, and SFPP's predictions of future costs were too uncertain. Finding that SFPP's board had not committed to the refurbishing program as late as 1995 and was simply funding the program year-by-year rather than committing itself to the entire proposed 15-year program, the ALJ reached a series of conclusions: that SFPP might decide to abandon the project or scale it back in the future, that the overall plan was subject to change, that there was little documentation to support estimates of the costs, and that it was uncertain whether significant amounts of the pipeline scheduled for refurbishing might be so corroded as to require outright replacement, which would be treated as a capital investment and factored into the rate base, not as an expense added to cost of service. In Opinion No. 435, the Commission essentially affirmed the ALJ's decision. 86 FERC at 61,106-08.
SFPP contends that the Commission, which used a 1994 base period and the nine-month test period in 1995, could not reasonably affirm the ALJ's decision, which was based on data from an earlier period. There is some record evidence supporting SFPP's claim that it had more firmly committed to the reconditioning project, including beginning refurbishment of several miles of pipeline in 1995, within ''nine months after the last month'' of 1994. Cf. 18 C.F.R. § 346.2(a)(1)(ii). There was testimony that SFPP's board had approved the project by 1994, that SFPP had recoated 13 miles of the pipeline in 1995, and that its prospective cost estimates were based upon its actual costs thus far.
Nonetheless, it was not unreasonable of the Commission to continue to have doubts about locking so large an expense into SFPP's cost of service (or, to put it more aptly given the test year methodology used here, it was not unreasonable for the Commission to have thought that doubts about the scope of the reconditioning project would still have been proper in 1995). At most the evidence before the Commission showed that, by 1995, SFPP had begun refurbishing certain portions of its pipeline; there was no guarantee from SFPP that the refurbishing would be as ambitious and expensive as claimed. Embedding SFPP's projections into its cost of service would have required its customers to pay for the refurbishing even if the project ultimately resulted in far smaller expenditures than those SFPP had projected. Indeed, given that SFPP now claims to have spent roughly $6 million on the project over four years, when it had predicted costs of at least $3 million a year over fifteen years, the Commission's judgment has been validated by hindsight.
This does not end our inquiry, however, for SFPP also contends that having denied inclusion of reconditioning costs in SFPP's cost of service, it was arbitrary for the Commission not to permit recovery in a surcharge of SFPP's actual costs in 1995-98, which were not found to be imprudently incurred. The Commission's legitimate doubts over the ultimate scope and cost of the reconditioning do not explain the basis for the Commission's decision to deny recovery once actual costs of the project were known. Its decision, rather, stems from a combination of the Commission's test year approach and its interpretation of the filed rate doctrine. In Opinion No. 435-A, the Commission permitted SFPP to recover its actual reconditioning costs as part of the same surcharge whereby it permitted recovery of SFPP's regulatory litigation costs, similarly offset by any unpaid reparations; any cost not so offset could be included in a surcharge amortized over five years. Yet in Opinion No. 435-B, presented with SFPP's claim that it had expended $5.9 million in actual East Line refurbishing costs between 1995 and 1998, the Commission denied recovery altogether because the expenditures ''were not incurred in the 1994 cost of service test period.'' 96 FERC at 62,078. In responding to protests that its Opinion No. 435-A ruling violated the filed rate doctrine, the Commission concluded ''[u]pon further review'' that allowing a surcharge for costs not incurred in the test period or with any regularity thereafter ''would permit SFPP to recover costs after the fact which were not even present in the test year itself and which thereafter could not be recovered in a cost of service rate filing,'' and that ''[t]o do so after the fact raises serious questions under the filed rate doctrine.'' Opinion No. 435-B, 96 FERC at 62,078.
The difficulty for the court stems from three sources: the Commission's apparent failure in its test year approach to articulate a clear and consistent approach for dealing with the prudently incurred costs of providing pipeline service that do not regularly recur, the Commission's failure to explain adequately why SFPP's reconditioning costs would not be recoverable in a cost of service rate filing, and its failure to articulate why such a surcharge would violate the filed rate doctrine. Some prudent expenditures involved in the operation of a pipeline that are not capitalized, such as, for instance, rate litigation or refurbishing, are bound to be onetime or infrequent expenditures. A ''test year'' snapshot of a pipeline's operating costs, therefore, if applied too simplistically, risks over- or under-stating the ''real'' costs of providing pipeline service, depending on whether such costs happen, by chance, to fall in a test year or not. We do not understand the Commission to apply the test year concept so simplistically; its regulations deal with the possible overstating problem by disallowing nonrecurring costs as part of the cost of service, see 18 C.F.R. § 346.2(a)(1)(I), and both under- and over-stating problems by permitting deviation from the test year ''for good cause shown,'' id. § 346.2(a)(1)(ii). Yet the Commission's approach in the instant case does not appear to deal consistently with costs incurred outside the test year, as evidenced by its different treatment of SFPP's rate litigation and reconditioning costs between 1995 and 1998. Both appear to be prudent, otherwise recoverable costs; both are nonrecurring (in the sense that they will not be permanent expenditures SFPP can be expected to incur each year); both were incurred chiefly outside the 1994 test year; and the Commission initially held that both past expenses could be recovered in prospective rates through a temporary surcharge because of ''benefits that flowed to the system when the costs were incurred.'' Opinion No. 435-A, 91 FERC at 61,518.