FERC on Thursday approved the first pair of items drafted by a recently formed group in the Office of General Counsel (OGC) made up of attorneys dedicated solely to the rehearing process, a first at the Commission.

“Previously, rehearings were assigned to lawyers in the Office of General Counsel who handled other matters, including those with statutory deadlines,” said OGC’s Robert Kennedy, who heads the new rehearings group. “This new group will be able to dedicate itself to rehearings and it is hoped that this will enhance the efficiency of the rehearing process.”

The group “is staffed with attorneys who have experience in wide-ranging areas of work carried out by the Commission, energy markets, oil and gas rates, gas and hydroelectric projects,” he said. “Attorneys in the group will be working closely with the teams who prepare the underlying orders, and the group’s ability to leverage the case-specific expertise of the initial teams, and the subject matter expertise of senior staff and other professionals throughout the Commission will be vital to its success.”

The group will bring a fresh set of eyes to issues raised on rehearing of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission orders and streamline the process, Kennedy said.

“An attorney who is not intimately involved in the underlying proceeding will provide an additional check on the initial legal decisions. We anticipate that the primary role of the hearing group will be to make sure that the Commission has, through either the initial order or the rehearing order, fulfilled its legal obligation to articulate the connection between the facts found and the choice made and respond meaningfully to legitimate objections raised by the parties before it.”

“A great deal of thought went into the formation of the new rehearings group,” said FERC Chairman Norman Bay. “I believe permitting a group of attorneys to focus on rehearing orders without the pressure of statutory deadlines and to implement a more streamlined process for addressing these orders will help to improve the already good work being done on these orders.”

The group’s work is expected to change the look of rehearing orders issued by FERC, according to Kennedy.

“In the future, rehearing orders will not reiterate the comprehensive factual background and procedural history found in the initial orders,” he said. “Instead, rehearing orders will focus strictly on those issues that require further discussion, either because the Commission wants to change or clarify its prior determination, or respond to arguments raised on rehearing that were not addressed in its initial order. And when the initial order has adequately addressed arguments raised on rehearing, we anticipate that the Commission will summarily deny rehearing as to those issues.”

The first two orders drafted by the group — both to deny rehearings, and both approved by FERC Thursday — are examples of the new process. One order denied an Alliance Pipeline request for rehearing of a Nov. 19, 2015 order that rejected the company’s proposal to remove authorized overrun service from its tariff and rate schedules [RP15-1022]. The rehearing group found that the November 2015 order adequately explained FERC’s reasoning and addressed the arguments raised in Alliance’s request for rehearing.

The second order denied GenOn Energy Management’s request for rehearing and clarification of FERC’s Oct. 30, 2015 order, which set GenOn’s proposed reactive power tariffs for hearing and settlement procedures and referred the issue to the Office of Enforcement for examination and inquiry [ER15-2571].