Roth: Tariffs affecting American energy?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on March 19, 2018.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Tariffs affecting American energy?

The threat of President Trump’s tariffs have again managed to bring together groups sometimes at odds with one another, when they attempted to dissuade the administration from imposing new tariffs.

Everyone from the American Petroleum Institute to the American Wind Energy Association and Solar Energy Industries Association, to congressional Republicans, to the broader stock market had negative reactions to the news of a 25-percent tariff on most steel imports and a 10-percent tariff on most aluminum.

Those on one end of that spectrum say the move could set off a trade war, while the other end poses that at the very least the result of tariffs could contradict the stated goals of an “America First” economic plan. World leaders everywhere in between denounce the move as damaging to international trade and nonconforming with World Trade Organization rules. We’ll see what they do.

The implications of the tariffs could be vast, as higher prices on steel and aluminum pose a real threat to many American industries, where those materials are significant inputs, and whose markets rely on low prices from imported materials.

The tariffs could have an unintended detrimental effect on American jobs for industries such as cars and energy. It is the same concept with tariffs on solar cells and modules. True, solar tariffs are sure to make panels from China and elsewhere more expensive to import, but the price increase on equipment, and thus entire projects, could scare off potential solar customers. Fewer solar customers lead to lower demand; lower demand means less solar jobs. With tariffs on steel and aluminum, the ripple effects are even more wide-reaching.

As they say, “all roads lead to Rome.” While there are other means to this end, Trump opts to penalize imports in an attempt to protect or prop up industries at home. But the tariffs won’t affect everyone – an exemption for Canada and Mexico has been discussed if those countries are willing to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump has been a frank and ardent opponent of the agreement. There is also a potential carve-out for U.S. parties who can demonstrate a demand for steel and aluminum that cannot be met domestically. Many folks across the energy industry want in on this exemption for obvious reasons, but the terms of the carve-out have yet to materialize.

Will the tariffs produce stronger steel and aluminum industries here at home, or will they cause trade wars worldwide? As per usual, we’ll have to wait and see, but for now most observers and energy industry participants suggest the effects will inflate their prices only nominally.

For now, we have the European Commission president’s pledge to slap tariffs on iconic U.S. exports, many from states described as Trump country, such as Midwestern wheat, Kentucky bourbon, blue jeans, and Harleys. Stay tuned.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Plugging into the charging infrastructure market

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on March 12, 2018.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Plugging into the charging infrastructure market

We know electric vehicle sales are charging ahead, but where do we charge them? Charging is no problem if you have a driveway and an outdoor electric outlet, or live in California, where there are about 12,000 charging stations (compare this to Germany, which currently has the same). But what about those who live in multifamily units or park on the street?

Lucky for us, there are plenty of smart, motivated people working on this opportunity. I call it an opportunity because if implemented properly, the accessibility of electric vehicle charging won’t amount to a challenge. Moreover, the charging infrastructure market is projected to grow to about $20 billion in the next five years.

For clarification, because the terminology varies, a charging pile is a slower, single station using alternate current level 1 and AC level 2 charging you might find in a parking lot or other public place where a vehicle would be charged for an extended time. A charging station is more like a gas station with multiple, higher-speed, usually direct current chargers. “Charging station” is commonly used for either of those examples.

In Oklahoma, charging stations are increasingly popping up around us. The City Center East parking garage in downtown Oklahoma City just installed new stations, and solar-powered EV charging projects have recently come online by Oklahoma-based companies Delta Energy and Design in and around OKC, and Francis Solar in and around Tulsa.

Globally, new ideas continue to develop with regard to EV charging. A German telecommunications company just announced plans to more than double the country’s number of charging stations by converting its distribution boxes to standard and fast-charging stations by 2020. In England and elsewhere, lampposts have been retrofitted for electric vehicle charging points. Last year China announced it would build 167,000 charging stations. This is a logical next step there since leaders plan an eventual outright ban on fossil fuel vehicles and have already made it more difficult to build them. India, the world’s third-largest oil importer, has plans to sell only electric cars by 2030. It, too, has begun to invest heavily in charging infrastructure.

Once more of us are driving EVs and the infrastructure is in place, the focus will turn to how quickly cars can be charged. India’s former minister of new and renewable energy has advocated for swapping of batteries at charging stations, rather than recharging, to reduce time at the pump. If that comes to fruition, I suppose we could call it a trading post?

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Electric vehicle market charging ahead

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on March 5, 2018.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Electric vehicle market charging ahead

Two million and counting. This was the title of the 2017 Electric Vehicle Outlook report by the International Energy Agency.

The market for electric vehicles continues to gain ground, although relatively speaking, it remains a small percentage of all U.S. auto sales. Still, every major car manufacturer has electrification plans, meaning their vehicles will operate using some amount of electric power.

Certain companies like Volvo are even vowing to cease building solely internal combustion engine vehicles. That is, the company does and will continue building hybrids, which by definition contain both gas and electric components. But like its competitors, Volvo will shift focus to all-electric vehicles, as sales for hybrids have declined, and EVs have become more ecological and economical.

The industry has evolved from the Prius-style gasoline-electric hybrid, to plug-in hybrids, to fully electric vehicles, sometimes called battery electric vehicles, and hydrogen cell vehicles. Toyota introduced the Prius to the U.S. in 2001 and still holds about 80 percent of the hybrid market.

If current trends continue, many predict this gasoline-electric-style hybrid will be obsolete before the combustion engine. Several causes support this notion. The shale revolution resulted in an influx of American oil and gas. An abundance of oil has made gas prices lower than 10 years ago when they peaked at $4.11 and the U.S. was primarily an importer of oil. This means consumers are at least slightly less concerned about gas prices, making a hybrid less appealing.

Next, an abundance of natural gas helped stabilize electricity prices, and making it more financially feasible to use electricity to charge a vehicle. Plus, the technology continues improving – batteries hold a charge longer and recharge quicker than ever. So, depending on consumer predilection, be it to save money on gas, to save the environment, or, simply to own the latest automobile technology, choices will likely include a battery electric vehicle or a gas vehicle, or, eventually as more fueling infrastructure is built, a hydrogen cell vehicle.

The U.S. is not the only country with growth in this industry – last year China led the way in the number of electrified cars on the road. Such a boon for battery electric vehicles will become an opportunity for the electric power sector.

Unlike many developing countries that lack consistent electricity for even basic needs, in the U.S. we enjoy such reliable electric power sources that many of us can elect to recharge electric vehicles overnight while we sleep. Or perhaps even using the electricity harnessed during the day via our rooftop solar panels at our places of work. Either way, the trend helps one imagine a future where your car is a large battery with four wheels that is ebbing and flowing electrons into an energy market and you are paying or being paid as the case may be.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Energy independence closer to reality

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 26, 2018.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Energy independence closer to reality

As American oil production surpasses 10 million barrels per day, the latest World Energy Outlook report from the International Energy Agency indicates the U.S. is poised to continue its record-breaking oil and gas production.

The report also predicts that by 2025, the U.S. could become the world’s largest exporter of LNG (we already export more natural gas than we import), and will begin to export more oil than we import, once thought unimaginable. The U.S. has not been a net exporter of oil since the 1950s, and following the 1973 oil crisis, was prohibited from exporting crude. The ban was intended to counteract future crises, and was lifted by the Obama administration in 2015.

Flashback to a previous World Energy Outlook report from 2012 when the IEA indicated the United States would overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil exporter by 2020 and become energy-independent 10 years later. That report also predicted that the U.S. would become a net exporter of crude oil around 2030. As recently as 2014, the U.S. was third behind Saudi Arabia and Russia in crude oil production.

We Oklahomans are familiar with the rest of the story, how technological advancement in drilling and fracking, or the shale renaissance, unlocked huge reserves of oil and gas and altered the energy landscape of Oklahoma and the world.

By 2016, the U.S. was exporting crude oil to nearly 30 countries. Last year, monthly exports exceeded 1 million barrels per day, but the U.S. still imports around 8 million BPD of crude oil, which is why the forecast of net exportation is really something.

The U.S. isn’t the only country reshaping its energy landscape. Saudi Arabia, through its Vision 2030 initiative to reduce its economy’s dependence on oil, is planning multifaceted changes to its energy industry this year. For now, Saudi has tentatively planned a 2018 initial public offering of its government-owned oil company Saudi Aramco. If projections are accurate, offering 5 percent of the company could raise up to $100 billion and would place the company’s valuation at or above $1.5 trillion. Saudi is also considering investments in U.S. shale interests, and as I discussed last week, is investing heavily in renewables. These possibly transformative steps within the Kingdom are occurring as American energy production and strength grows and Saudis grow nervous for their economy.

This month a supertanker full of American crude left the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, or LOOP, for the People’s Republic of China. This was the first time for an export of this size that did not require smaller ships to shuttle their multiple cargoes out to supertankers waiting in deeper waters. LOOP, the only deep-water port in the U.S., has been instrumental in offloading imported oil, and now its ability to handle these massive tankers will both lower the costs and simplify the logistics of oil exports.

IEA reported this month that America’s net crude oil imports fell by 1.6 million barrels per day to just under 5 million bpd, the lowest level since the IEA began keeping this data in 2001. And the export of American crude jumped to just above 2 million bpd, close to a record high of 2.1 million hit in October, and those numbers have pushed our country’s net imports to a new low level. The promise of energy independence, at least on a domestic production and domestic consumption comparison, is growing closer to reality than ever.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Counterintuitive renewable energy progress

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 19, 2018.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Counterintuitive renewable energy progress

I have often said renewables are here to stay, in spite of some resistance from some corners of our economy.

Case in point, countries around the globe are investing in and developing renewable forms of energy in places that wouldn’t be that obvious. For instance, last year in the U.S., we installed more than 14.73 gigawatts of solar, while China installed more than twice that at 34.54 gigawatts.

While the technology for solar panels was created in the U.S., China’s embrace of the solar industry changed the economics. New research indicates that years of cheap Chinese solar panels dropped prices around the globe by 80 percent. China also dominates other industries the U.S. once led, currently surpassing us in the production of steel, automobiles, and cotton. China also leads the way in pollution as well as coal production at almost 4 billion short tons, compared to the United States’ 728 million short tons in 2016. It’s not all bad for the U.S. that China leads the way in solar; after all, the cheaper panels afforded the addition of hundreds of thousands of domestic solar installation jobs here in America.

But, there is more to this story. Renewable energy is being developed in other unexpected places.

In Saudi Arabia, the new crown prince and his energy minister are looking to diversify and grow the economy by maximizing the country’s vast sunlight. One example of this is a solar farm covering a massive parking lot at Saudi Aramco, the national oil company. For Saudi Arabia’s economy, oil has long been the kingpin – citizens get 50 percent of their electricity by burning oil.

But with new leadership (sometimes) comes new ideas, and the new goal is to install 41 gigawatts of solar by 2032. Questions about whether the plan will be implemented still remain. The benefits to the country include the price – with government-backing for projects, the energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels, and, with more citizens using renewables for their domestic energy needs, more Saudi oil is available for export.

These efforts won’t help China’s solar industry much; the bidding process requires the selected company to spend around 30 percent of total costs on domestic suppliers. A sort of “Arabia First” requirement.

Three other countries whose level of renewables might come as a bit of a surprise are Nicaragua, with plans to be powered by 90 percent renewables by 2020. Costa Rica, slightly more assertive than Nicaragua, aims to be completely carbon-neutral by 2021. And Uruguay, maybe the most impressive, is running on 95 percent renewables with only 10 years of effort, and all without subsidies or raising consumer costs.

These countries have geothermal, hydroelectric, solar, and wind – hey, not unlike Oklahoma and its own diverse resources. But Nicaragua and Costa Rica have two things our state does not: volcanoes, which provide for vast geothermal energy, and government leaders who support the development of renewable technologies.

While we won’t have volcanoes anytime soon, we could stand to have more support to develop the many energy blessings found in our state. A sort of “Oklahoma First” energy policy, if you will.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Avoiding construction contract litigation

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 15, 2018.

Samuel D. Newton is an attorney practicing in Oil and Gas, Construction, and Health Care Law.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Samuel D. Newton

Oklahoma heavy civil and oil and gas construction will likely increase in the near term due to increased activity in the oil and gas fields and President Trump’s proposed $1.5 trillion investment in infrastructure.

Often seen as a heavily litigious industry, construction projects don’t have to end in litigation if contracts are carefully drafted and parties enforce the provisions during the course of the project. Here are some points to consider when drafting and/or reviewing.

Know your deadlines. Most construction contracts impose liquidated damages in the event of delay. While substantial/final completion is likely non-negotiable, (sub)contractors should raise, and try to draft around, any potential milestone concerns during negotiations to prevent the assessment of liquidated damages or exercise of the contract default provisions. Additionally, all parties need to be aware of the timeline for making claims or submitting change orders. Both are often waived under the contract if the proponent of the claim/change doesn’t submit the appropriate notice to the appropriate person in the requisite period of time.

Know the payment scheme. Payments are also often a litigious issue in construction. All parties should be aware of lien and, if applicable, bond claim rights, as they vary based on who the contracting entity is and where the project is located. Additionally, “pay if paid” and “pay when paid” clauses should not be confused. “Pay if paid” clauses shift the risk for nonpayment to lower tiers if payment is not received from higher tiers. “Pay when paid” generally only acts to give the (sub)contractor time to pay after it receives payment. Case law suggests that “pay if paid” clauses would need to be explicit to be enforceable in Oklahoma, though no cases directly examine the clause.

Know your contracting partners. Conduct due diligence to ensure that those you are contracting with – at each tier – have the skills and financial stability to complete the project. Consider including (or modifying) clauses that allow suspension and/or termination of the contract, if the representations and warranties you relied on when deciding to enter into the contract were untrue or grossly overstated.

Know your contract. Finally, don’t simply sign the contract and put it in a drawer. All parties should know the provisions and educate their employees about provisions relevant to their scope of work.

Samuel D. Newton practices construction and oil & gas law at Phillips Murrah P.C.

Roth: Energy protectionism in the form of solar tariffs

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 12, 2018.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Energy protectionism in the form of solar tariffs

While this column was on hiatus, the president made his decision on the Section 201 International Trade case by, somewhat unsurprisingly, adding steep tariffs to solar cells and modules originating from China and several other countries. The tariff takes hold at 30 percent this year and will gradually decline to 15 percent in the fourth year.

During his tenure, Trump has been clear about his preference for coal over renewables, so he couldn’t likely squander this two birds, one stone opportunity to stick it to both the renewable energy industry and China. While it is true that cheap, imported panels have boosted the industry, huge investments, domestic job creation and low-cost clean energy accompanied that growth, which made for a complicated and contentious conflict.

As I’ve mentioned previously, many were troubled by the irony that Suniva and SolarWorld, the petition filers, asserted serious harm to the domestic solar industry, yet are foreign corporations, but both have headquarters in the U.S., which gave them standing to challenge the imports. Nonetheless, they prevailed over a massive response from the rest of the solar industry and others interested in trade practices.

One silver lining in the battle appeared when conservative groups ALEC and the Heritage Foundation came out against the tariffs. Their positions on the matter bolstered an already strong faction of those opposed to tariffs, and I am always optimistic when logic transcends politics. But, despite the efforts of the bipartisan opposition group, (not even a Sean Hannity commercial did the trick) the tariffs are the new normal for the solar industry.

But will the tariffs actually help American manufacturers ramp up, and what will those prices look like? Of course, this is yet to be seen. But those in the industry predict (and some have already seen) increases of 10-15 percent over total project costs. Those prices are obviously paid by American consumers. Prices increased upon the initial recommendations, and before Trump made a decision, as solar installers were stockpiling the affected equipment in preparation for what many knew would result.

Since tariffs are taxes, the end users are the ones who will eventually foot the bill. This decision has many, even supporters of the president, disappointed. Those in favor of a free market and especially those for free trade are calling the decision protectionist, while others are warning of a slippery slope not seen before in trade policy. The reason for the concern is that less than half of the petitions sent to the ITC have been granted any type of trade barrier, and since many believe this case lacked a definite injury to the industry, there are fears that other industries will file petitions with similar claims.

The great, hopeful fact that remains for America’s energy future, regardless of what this or any administration does to help or hinder it, is that Americans overwhelmingly want cleaner, renewable energy to power their lives. And as America further electrifies its future, Oklahoma’s sun and wind blessings should play a big role, so long as we don’t deny ourselves the future.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: The high cost of climate volatility

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 5, 2018.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

The high cost of climate volatility

Natural disasters cost the United States $306 billion in 2017, matching a previous record set in 2011.

Hearing this, we Oklahomans can recall that last year’s tornado season, which resulted in one death in our state, was comparatively tame, although that is hardly a term to describe a tornado season or a loss of life.

The costs from the 2017 figures are mostly property damage from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and damage from wildfires that plagued the West Coast. And the numbers of lives lost and injured continue to grow.

States all across the country suffered damage from all forms of severe weather, including wildfires, resulting smoke and ash, droughts, floods, unseasonable tornadoes, damaging hail, excessive rain, dangerous winds, record snowfalls, and severe thunderstorms. Sixteen devastating weather events, each with a price tag over $1 billion, tested this country’s resolve and took lives.

I listed Maria, but this storm warrants its own discussion. Damage estimates are just under $100 billion for this hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico and other nearby islands. Some parts of Puerto Rico remain without power still and will be for eight months or more as efforts to rebuild the electric grid continue. If that doesn’t make you want to put up solar panels or live free off the grid, I don’t know what will.

But surely it will get better? No, say scientists, climate change will continue to cause worse weather. Every state is experiencing erratic and above-average temperatures, five of which set record temps last year, and in December, Alaska experienced temps that were more than 15 degrees above average.

That was 2017. Right away, 2018 added insult to injury in California, when land that was raw and barren from the recent historic wildfires was pummeled by mudslides destroying homes and lives. While we can quantify the damage to property, the harm caused to humans is, in some cases, quite literally immeasurable.

For instance, there are physical health hazards from wildfires that accompany the smoke and ash that blanketed not only California, but also nearby Washington and Oregon. Even more difficult to measure are the psychological tolls that frightening weather events have on people. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with that concept in Oklahoma.

If you are like me, you like the optimistic, fresh start a new year offers. So here is a productive tool you can use to offset some of this human activity that leads to this troubling news. Previously I’ve mentioned the EPA’s Carbon Footprint Calculator. This is a great way to live consciously while actively doing what you can to reduce your daily greenhouse gas emissions.

As the price of climate change and erratic weather continues to rise in American lives and property, every individual effort helps.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

NewsOK Q&A: Budget act makes auditing partnerships easier, more efficient

From NewsOK / by Paula Burkes
Published: January 19, 2018
Click to see full story – Budget act makes auditing partnerships easier, more efficient

Click to see Erica K. Halley’s attorney profile

Erica K. Halley represents individuals and businesses in a broad range of transactional matters.

Q: What is the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 and why should LLCs and other partnerships pay attention?

A: Effective this month, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 changes how the Internal Revenue Service audits and assesses taxes of entities taxed as partnerships, including most limited liability companies. One such change includes replacing the “Tax Matters Partner” with the “Partnership Representative,” which is much more than a mere name modification. In essence, the act makes auditing partnerships easier and more efficient for the IRS, so understanding the weight of designating your Partnership Representative is critical in preparing for your company’s increased exposure to potential audits beginning this year.

Q: What is the difference between the Tax Matters Partner and the Partnership Representative?

A: There are two key differences between the Tax Matters Partner of the past and the Partnership Representative of the present and future. First, the Partnership Representative isn’t necessarily a partner (or member, in the case of an LLC) of the entity. Like a manager of an LLC, a Partnership Representative may be any person the company deems fit to serve in such role, who may or may not be an owner of the company. Second, the Partnership Representative has complete authority to act on behalf of the company when communicating with the IRS. Importantly, and unlike the laws previously in effect, there’s no statutory obligation to notify the partners or members of the existence or status of an audit, much less include them in any decisions that may significantly impact the tax treatment of the company.

Q: What do businesses need to do to prepare for the change?

A: The partners or members of a company will need to agree on the expectations they have for their Partnership Representative and the desired scope of his or her authority. Then, they should amend their company’s governing documents, such as their partnership agreement or operating agreement, accordingly. In addition to providing for the appointment, removal and replacement of the Partnership Representative, they also should consider demanding timely notice to each partner or member of all IRS communications. Other considerations include requiring the Partnership Representative to make certain elections on behalf of the entity, or obligating the Partnership Representative to use his or her best efforts. Companies also may want to add certain indemnification provisions that bind the Partnership Representative to his or her duties with respect to an audit. Finally, and essentially, they must designate their Partnership Representative on their entity’s return each year. As the IRS isn’t bound by any partnership or operating agreement, if a company fails to make the designation on the return, the IRS may select a company’s Partnership Representative for them.

What’s in a name? Tremendous value

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on January 4, 2018.

Cody Cooper is a Patent Attorney in the Intellectual Property Practice Group and represents individuals and companies in a wide range of intellectual property, patent, trademark and copyright matters. His practice also includes commercial litigation.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Cody J. Cooper

The holiday season is coming to an end, and most people have opened their Xboxes and Legos, eaten some HoneyBaked Ham, braved the cold in their North Face jackets and thrown away holiday trash in Hefty trash bags.

With a glut of advertising during the holidays, the power of brand recognition is obvious, and successful companies recognize the influence their names have on consumer behavior. This makes protecting a company’s trademark, typically the company’s name, critical, especially as their market exposure and customer base grows.

The trademark associated with the goods and services of a company is commonly one of its most valuable assets. For example, the ubiquitous Coca-Cola Co., the fifth most valuable brand in 2017, has a market capitalization (total value of all outstanding stock) of $195 billion and the Coca-Cola name, alone, is worth $56.4 billion, which accounts for almost 30 percent of its value. To round out the top five corporate monikers, Apple takes the top spot with its name being worth $170 billion, followed by Google ($101.8B), Microsoft ($87B) and Facebook ($73.5B).

The same legal considerations of brand value for large companies applies equally for many smaller, growing companies and organizations. Because consumers instantly associate an entity’s name with its good or services, protecting the name with a trademark has tremendous value.

Generally, a business has common law rights to exclude others from using a trademark that is confusingly similar to its own trademark. The scope of this right greatly expands or contracts based on whether a trademark has been registered, and the level at which the mark is registered. There are two avenues to take when looking to protect a company’s trademark: file for a state trademark or a federal mark.

State trademarks are typically cheaper, faster and easier to obtain, yet they also afford far less protection. Conversely, federal marks have a more rigorous application process, cost more, and take longer, but they afford the greatest amount of protection since they provide protection throughout the United States and supersede state trademarks.

Smart company leaders spend significant time and money building the value of their company and brand, and they realize the importance of protecting the company’s most valuable consumer-facing asset by securing a trademark.

Cody J. Cooper is a patent attorney with the Oklahoma City law firm of Phillips Murrah.

Roth: Putting politics aside for renewable energy

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 27, 2017.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Putting politics aside for renewable energy

Green cities continue to emerge from the coal dust.

Optimistically, some leaders are even proving they will rise above politics with their efforts. After all, clean energy should not (and is not) about politics, anyhow.

Lately renewables are being chosen over other forms of energy for reasons of “dollars and sense.” I recently happened upon a piece about a Texas city that will be the first to use 100 percent renewables in U.S. News, which led me to that publication’s list of the 10 states using the most renewable energy. The top 10 are a bit surprising and extremely promising, especially when you consider all the abundant clean energy here in Oklahoma.

In these 10 places, it’s not about whether they were likely to have supported Obama’s Clean Power Plan or Trump’s plan to eradicate it; these leaders have run the numbers and are implementing renewables accordingly, because it’s in their citizens’ economic interests.

That Texas city, the city of Georgetown, despite being extremely conservative, is one of the first cities in the country to use 100 percent renewables. The mayor there, Dale Ross, intends for his legacy to be that the environment in his city, and thus the planet, will be better because of Georgetown’s efforts.

Renewable energy just makes sense, say Mayor Ross and other city leaders, so politics didn’t (and shouldn’t) play a role in the decision. When the city was looking for a new energy provider, they discovered that after deregulation of retail energy, renewables were more cost-effective. Additionally, policies former Texas Gov. Rick Perry put in place allowed for the installation of large generation tie lines to bring wind across the state from the windy west side. As a result, Georgetown locked in their rates with wind and solar energy for 20 years.

I love the mayor’s quote regarding that decision, “Do you think that the wind is going to stop blowing in Texas, and the sun is going to stop shining in Texas, before or after we run out of fossil fuels?”

Oklahoma has a chance to put politics aside, too. When something is cheaper and cleaner, logic should conquer politics. Recently, my friend Johnson Bridgwater, who runs the Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club, spoke about Oklahoma’s solar energy potential (it is enormous). He pointed to a map of the U.S. that indicated states with excellent “peak sun hours,” or those with the best potential for solar energy, and asked, “If this map revealed our oil and gas plays, would we sit on them?” No way. We’d materialize that energy. Which is what I hope our state will do. Our energy potential is before us, if we have the courage to remove politics and act in our citizens’ collective interests.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Coal ash disposal and verb tense

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 27, 2017.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Coal ash disposal and verb tense

Back in 2014, the Obama administration, through the Environmental Protection Agency, passed a final rule called the Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities regarding CCRs (coal combustion residuals or “coal ash”) disposal.

The rule addressed the concern that coal ash contains mercury, arsenic, and cadmium, and can and has leaked into groundwater, blown into the air, and decimated the surface.

But keeping in line with the idea you can’t please everyone, the rule was considered too lenient for some and too stringent for others. In fact, those in the former camp were dismayed the rule did not classify coal ash as toxic waste. What the final rule did do was to create regulations and standards concerning the disposal of the byproduct that comes from burning coal for energy.

Fast-forward to last month when the Trump administration’s Scott Pruitt indicated the EPA would reconsider the rule after being sued over it by Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, a utility company industry group, and AES Puerto Rico, which operates a coal-fired power plant.

Those parties asserted the rule went too far in its regulation over inactive pits, where coal ash has been deposited but is not actively being added to, and active pits, those areas currently being filled with ash.

This past week, in oral argument at the D.C. Circuit, the parties underwent a grammar lesson, which concentrated on whether the EPA’s authority extended to inactive coal ash pits.

A focus on where the waste “is disposed of” was said to concern the present tense, or active coal pits. It was argued by petitioners that the EPA had “limited statutory authority” over inactive pits that had not seen new coal ash in some time. This argument essentially suggests the reach of the EPA regulation is only on the disposal activity and not on the lingering environmental risks that remain.

This discussion over the tense of the statute and how it affected the EPA’s authority took a majority of the hearing and its detailed nuances brings into focus the reach of environmental regulation in America.

The EPA expressed its desire to address the issues in the rule through its rulemaking process. One judge on the D.C. Circuit voiced her concern that “nothing would ever get decided” if that were the route taken, seemingly a nod to the current administration’s multiple efforts to prop up the waning coal industry.

It seems to me that when one is arguing the breadth or limits to a new rule, like the Coal Ash Rule, it’s most important to look to the enabling act and its intended reach. In this case, the enabling act is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which typically creates the framework for hazardous and non-hazardous solid wastes.

The Coal Ash Rule was promulgated under sub-part D, similar to open dumping of wastes, operation of municipal and industrial waste sites, and location restrictions like flood plains and wetlands.

It may be nuanced to argue verb tense, but it seems to me a regulation is effective only if it accomplishes its intended purpose to protect the public over the course of the hazardous and non-hazardous materials’ life, not just the act of someone “dumping” it somewhere at one single point in time.

“Safe disposal,” in the eyes of the waste’s nearest neighbor (and their water well), probably should include how it lingers in that disposal location.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: The Senate tax bill’s effect on energy

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 20, 2017.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

The Senate tax bill’s effect on energy

Last week I considered how the House tax proposal would impact the energy industry. With the release of the Senate’s proposal, we now wait to see how Congress will merge these two versions. The current schedule has them submitting a bill to the president before year-end.

As a refresher, the House plan severely injured renewables, hitting wind the hardest, with its early sunset of vital tax credits including both the investment tax credit and production tax credit. Not the Senate bill, though – it leaves those in place. It also leaves the marginal well credit in place, a fact that many Oklahomans will appreciate.

One positive feature of the Senate’s version is its silence on the electric vehicle credit. The House bill removed a $7,500 incentive for EV car buyers.

The incentive was achieved via a bipartisan effort aimed at bringing parity between electric and combustion engine vehicles. Since the incentive was put in place, every major car manufacturer has unveiled plans to increase its electric vehicle production. Some companies, like Volvo, pledged to make all of their vehicles electric (hybrid or plug-in) or “electrified” (a non-plug-in electric version) beginning in 2019.

The EV component is really important to the renewable energy story, as it will no doubt be a catalyst for those who are reluctant to embrace other types of green living such as installing solar panels on their roofs or a geothermal system underground.

Other key differences between the bills are that the Senate’s version also cuts the corporate tax to 20 percent, but not until 2019, where the House’s cut would go in to effect after Dec. 31. Unlike the House’s proposal, the Senate version does not eliminate any brackets, but does lower rates more than its House counterpart.

The Senate bill treats small business pass-through entities differently – more favorably – than the House bill. There are a vast number of oil and gas related pass-through small businesses in Oklahoma that would stand to benefit.

While the Senate version is far more courteous to the energy sector than its House counterpart, there are still many things left to contemplate. For one, two major promises by congressional Republicans have been the repeal of Obamacare and tax reform.

The Senate bill attempts the old two birds, one stone idiom with its repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate. This relates to the energy industry as so many oil and gas companies and affiliates are small businesses, which often means many of their employees are independent contractors. Obviously this repeal would lower tax rates for all Americans, but its wide-reaching effects on the state of health care in our country remains to be seen. It is estimated that remaining insured Americans would see an increase of 10 percent in their premiums, which might actually exceed the tax break savings the bill otherwise proposes for middle-income Americans. Stay tuned.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

NewsOK Q&A: Some mortgage, business loans may need updating with looming bank rate phaseout

From NewsOK / by Paula Burkes
Published: November 16, 2017
Click to see full story – Some mortgage, business loans may need updating with looming bank rate phaseout

Click to see Kendra M. Norman’s attorney profile

Kendra M. Norman represents individuals and businesses in a broad range of transactional matters.

Q: What is LIBOR?

A: The London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) is the daily calculation of an average of estimated interest rates that a panel of around 20 banks calculate they’d be charged to borrow from other banks. LIBOR serves as the primary reference interest rate that’s overwhelmingly used by lenders to set their own interest rates including mortgage and student loan lenders, as well as credit card companies. It’s been used since 1986 for this purpose. LIBOR hasn’t been without its scandals, and in 2012, media outlets began to allege that LIBOR was being manipulated by the very banks that set the rate, leading to fines levied against financial institutions and prison sentences for individuals involved in the rate manipulation as well as regulatory backlash. The Financial Conduct Authority is the regulatory agency for LIBOR, and on July 27, in an apparent effort to replace rather than reform LIBOR, Chief Executive Andrew Bailey announced the recommendation that LIBOR be phased out at the end of 2021 due to a lack of confidence in the calculation as well as unwillingness among banks to use it.

Q: What’s the future of LIBOR and how could it affect consumers?

A: LIBOR has been used pervasively as a benchmark rate for loans for over 30 years. Most consumers have at least one agreement in effect that references LIBOR, whether it be a mortgage or business loan. Many of these contracts are long-term and won’t expire before 2021 when LIBOR will be phased out. Some of these loan contracts based upon LIBOR contain a fallback provision and reference an equivalent or alternative interest rate to be used in place of LIBOR, laying the foundation for those instruments to be governed by LIBOR’s eventual successor. However, lenders and borrowers should review existing loan documents, especially those continuing after 2021, to ascertain whether they’re LIBOR-based loans and then whether they reference an alternative rate in the event that LIBOR is no longer published. Those documents without fallback provisions or an alternative rate should be amended and updated so that they reference a substitute or new rate to avoid legal uncertainty once LIBOR is replaced.

Q: What will replace LIBOR?

A: LIBOR’s administrator will continue to produce LIBOR until 2021 and possibly after that time if banks continue to contribute to the benchmark rate, so there’s still time to figure out what will replace LIBOR, but there’s currently no go-to replacement. Lenders and borrowers should consider use of fallback provisions and flexible amendment provisions due to the unavailability of LIBOR in the future.

Why Weinstein’s creditors hired bankruptcy counsel

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 16, 2017.

Clayton D. Ketter is a Director and a litigator whose practice involves a wide range of business litigation in both federal and state court, including extensive experience in financial restructurings and bankruptcy matters.

By Phillips Murrah Director Clayton D. Ketter

Since the onslaught of sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, his film studio, The Weinstein Company, has wasted no time in firing its founder. Yet, the namesake studio has been unable to distance itself from Mr. Weinstein’s bad press, and it is questionable how willing moviegoers will be to support anything associated with the toxic moniker. This has prompted speculation that a bankruptcy is looming.

While The Weinstein Company has not filed for bankruptcy, and denies any plans to do so, some of the company’s debtholders reportedly have already retained bankruptcy attorneys. Why? At first glance, it may seem odd for creditors to hire bankruptcy counsel before a filing is even initiated. However, there are strategic reasons as to why early retention makes sense.

Often, a company facing financial pressure will attempt, prior to filing, to work with its largest lenders to craft a strategy that is mutually beneficial to all parties. Cooperation among debtors and creditors increases the likelihood of a successful bankruptcy and can significantly reduce associated attorneys’ fees.

Even if the parties won’t work together, bankruptcy counsel can provide vital pre-bankruptcy assistance to a creditor. It is normal for the debtor to file a number of pleadings on the day the bankruptcy is commenced or shortly thereafter. These typically include mundane items such as authority to continue to use bank accounts, pay employees and employ legal professionals. However, it is also possible for significant relief to be requested as part of these first-day motions, including post-bankruptcy financing arrangements or even requests to liquidate assets. Having bankruptcy counsel at the ready and fully engaged allows a creditor to immediately respond to any such requests to ensure the creditor’s rights are protected.

Should The Weinstein Company file bankruptcy, it is likely to begin with a motion seeking to liquidate its highly portable assets, which include its film library, and movie and television development projects. Those assets could be acquired by a rival studio and washed of the Weinstein name, thereby increasing the potential value. The Weinstein Company’s significant creditors would want to ensure that they won’t get blindsided by a sudden bankruptcy filing and a first-day motion to sell. Their early retention of bankruptcy counsel will help prevent such a scenario from happening.

Clayton D. Ketter is a director and litigation attorney at Phillips Murrah P.C. who specializes in financial restructuring.

NewsOK Q&A: Not all jokes, propositions necessarily workplace sexual harassment

From NewsOK / by Paula Burkes
Published: November 14, 2017
Click to see full story – Not all jokes, propositions necessarily workplace sexual harassment

Click to see Kathryn D. Terry’s attorney profile

The emphasis of Kathryn D. Terry’s litigation practice is in the areas of insurance coverage, labor and employment law and civil rights defense.

Q: What is sexual harassment?

A: The word “harassment” gets thrown around and used in a lot of contexts. or employment law purposes, unlawful sexual harassment is conduct in a work-related environment that reasonable persons would characterize as offensive and sexual in nature, which actually offends a person and can be said to affect the terms of conditions of the sufferer’s employment.

Q: What does “work-related” mean?

A: First, unlawful sexual harassment doesn’t just occur at work or work events. In fact, more often than not, harassment takes place outside the office and after hours. All of the following are common: one co-worker shows up on the doorstep of another, uninvited and unwelcome; after work drinks; work-related texts that turn personal. If the relationship is primarily work-related and a problem develops, it could be an issue for the employer. Secondly, the employer must actually be an “employer.” Today, almost every employer engages independent contractors and consultants — people who are not employees. If one or both of the persons involved aren’t actually employees, while the conduct at issue may be offensive, even reprehensible or unlawful, it may not be sexual harassment. For example, if an employee makes unwelcome and offensive advances to a courier or caterer who isn’t an employee but interacts with the company and its personnel, that isn’t technically sexual harassment for employment law purposes. Incidentally, although an employer in this situation may not be required to address the situation, it should. If another instance occurs, the first incident likely would demonstrate the employer had notice of bad conduct by the employee but took no remedial action.

Q: How offensive is offensive?

A: First, the proverbial “reasonable person” has to be offended. What offends someone in Oklahoma may be commonplace elsewhere. Every joke, or even every proposition, isn’t necessarily harassment. If a co-worker invites another co-worker out to dinner, the second declines and that’s the end of story, that exchange is not very likely to be characterized as sexual harassment here in middle-America, regardless of whether the invitee was actually offended by the invitation. Second, actual offense must occur. One co-worker could make routine, crude, offensive, sexual remarks toward a specific co-worker. However, if those remarks aren’t offensive to the recipient (he or she takes them, rightfully so, as jokes), there’s no sexual harassment, no matter how vulgar the remarks may be. There are important caveats to be considered, however. Oftentimes persons who complain about long-standing harassment say they went along with the behavior hoping it would stop, fearing retaliation or thinking it was a joke and then it turned more serious. Thus, if a situation like this develops in the workplace, a prudent employer not only will inquire of the persons involved as to their comfort levels, but also will direct the employees involved, regardless of their congenial relationship, to tone it down and be respectful not only of each other, but also of other co-workers who are present.

Q: How bad does sexual harassment have to be to be deemed harassment?

A: The buzzwords are that is has to adversely affect the “terms and conditions” of employment; it has to make the sufferer’s job worse in a meaningful way. But, for example, repeatedly asking out a co-worker despite being rebuffed and asked to cease the invitations, probably can be considered harassment. Moreover, as recent news events demonstrate, one severe incident can be very significant harassment. Conversely, little and subtle remarks and conduct over time can be detrimental to a person’s employment environment and an employer who knows of this type of conduct but fails to take action does so at its peril. A couple of major red flags also exist. If the employee alleging harassment also suffers an adverse economic impact (for example, demotion, reassignment or failure to give a bonus) or if there’s any kind of physical contact (even an unwelcome hug), very careful scrutiny of the events and the relationship is warranted.

Roth: A victory for fossil fuels over renewables

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 13, 2017.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

A victory for fossil fuels over renewables

At this juncture, it isn’t shocking to read the new tax proposal and learn that it harms renewable energy.

The headlines immediately bifurcated the energy sector into winners (fossil fuels) and losers (renewables). Retention of many long-standing fossil fuel breaks and incentives were an unsurprising boon for oil and gas companies, while the phase-out of many energy efficiency-related investment tax credits have the green energy industry angry and activated, and rightfully so.

It is counterintuitive that the tax proposal injures wind so badly, since it is proven, efficient, and reliable, and complements well with natural gas as the least expensive power source(s). While logic can’t be tied to the attack on wind, politics can. The tax proposal keeps in line with the current administration’s efforts to favor fossil fuels, especially coal, no matter how dirty or expensive. Plus, the revenue yanked from wind incentives goes to fund the newly created corporate tax revenue hole, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates this past week is the largest part of the $1.7 trillion estimated the GOP plan adds to America’s debt.

Subtitle F (the proposal’s heading dealing with energy credits) inadvertently got the letter grade it deserved as it outright fails renewable energy. Under the plan, the $7,500 tax incentive on electric vehicles is eliminated. States that mandated goals for zero-emission vehicles did so with an expectation of the incentive. Not to mention EV car companies whose business projections are based on the existence of the tax credit and a chance to keep American car manufacturers competitive with the world.

This section also contains certain repeals of oil and gas incentives, too, namely, the repeal of tax credits for marginal wells. This is especially negative for Oklahoma as the age and extent of our historic oil and gas production means we still have a significant number of marginal wells at work here in Oklahoma. Since many of these are owned and operated by mom-and-pop companies, it seems the GOP draft favors today’s large corporations over small businesses, at least as it relates to oil and gas marginal wells.

Another less obvious way the plan helps oil and gas corporations and harms renewable energy developers is the latter’s reliance on tax equity investors. Larger exploration and production-companies will benefit from the new corporate tax rate of 20 percent, down from 35 percent. But the model for many renewable energy projects relies upon, among other things, tax equity financing. When tax exposure is lower, it could follow that there would be less interest in tax equity financing projects, of all kinds, and especially energy.

Nevertheless, I remain steadfast in my confidence for our state’s and nation’s diverse energy future. Of course this optimism is buttressed by the reminder that there are still forthcoming amendments, and this plan will not likely become the final law. The bill, as proposed, violates the “Byrd rule,” a Senate reconciliation rule that, in part, allows senators to block legislation when it would considerably increase the federal deficit beyond a 10-year term.

So far, there are over a trillion reasons either of our two U.S. senators could block this draft and insist it be rewritten to help all forms of Oklahomans’ energies. Stay tuned.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

NewsOK Q&A: Manufacturing sales tax exemption is tool for attracting, maintaining investment

From NewsOK / by Paula Burkes
Published: November 3, 2017
Click to see full story – Manufacturing sales tax exemption is tool for attracting, maintaining investment

Click to see Jim Roth’s attorney profile

Jim A. Roth, Phillips Murrah

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Q: What is Oklahoma’s manufacturing sales tax exemption?

A: Goods and equipment used in a manufacturing operation can be purchased exempt from sales and use tax by manufacturers. This type of sales tax exemption is designed to attract and promote business. It’s a proven tool that governments employ to make their communities more attractive. The rationale is simple: draw out-of-state investment and keep in-state investment rather than relinquishing that investment (and the associated jobs, taxes and infrastructure) to a competing location.

Q: What is the relevance of the sales tax exemption to the energy industry?

A: Under Oklahoma law, the term “manufacturing” includes the conversion of materials and natural resources into other materials that have a different form or use. This definition encompasses processes ranging from the manufacturing of oil field equipment to petroleum refining. Electric power generation is also considered manufacturing. As a result, power generators such as natural gas-fired power plants, coal-fired power plants and wind energy facilities are deemed manufacturers and are permitted to purchase equipment to be used in the power generation process exempt from sales and use tax. Ultimately, the exemption is designed to help qualifying energy companies stay afloat — especially during capital-intensive phases — and keep investing in Oklahoma.

Q: This exemption has been a hot topic at the state Capitol during special legislative session. What are some of the issues at hand?

A: Oklahoma is facing a historic budget shortfall, with risks of further cuts to state agencies becoming a very real possibility. Legislators are searching for dollars to help plug financial holes before the ship sinks, and many of our state’s tax incentives and exemptions may be on the chopping block. There has been discussion of removing wind energy companies from access to the manufacturing sales tax exemption. While wind developers have made it publicly clear they’re already invested in Oklahoma to the tune of billions and plan to stay for the long haul, it’s important to revisit the reason for such exemptions in the first place and consider that the opposite is also true: if certain companies or industries are punitively cut out of such exemptions while still paying millions in taxes, it may make Oklahoma a difficult place to do business, which will, in the long run, discourage investment and aggravate our state’s budget problems.


Roth: Sharing the warmth with solar energy

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 6, 2017.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Sharing the warmth with solar energy

You may have noticed the Salvation Army’s Share the Warmth program on your electric bill.

Many areas have similar utility assistance programs that help residents who are having a difficult time paying their utility bills. Some utility companies are taking this idea to a whole new level by building solar energy projects whose electrons are devoted specifically to lower-income residents. Three such examples come from New York utility Con Edison’s pilot project; Colorado’s collaboration between the state Energy Office, Grid Alternatives, a nonprofit, and Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association, an electric co-op; and finally, a California law that incentivizes affordable housing owners to install rooftop solar that would pass financial savings to tenants.

The Colorado low-income community solar project, currently the largest of its kind in the U.S., was made possible in part by a grant awarded by the Colorado Energy Office. Most of the energy from the 1.95-megawatt solar array will be devoted to low-income residents and housing providers as well as nonprofits, all located in rural areas. The pilot project is scalable and affordable and maximizes less-desirable land adjacent to a landfill. Plus, the project will help train a new workforce of solar installers. For one of the partners, Grid Alternatives, the project serves as a continuation of its mission to bring solar choice to people who do not have the resources to install it on their own.

In New York, Con Edison’s program just received approval in August and intends to pilot a scalable program with an eventual goal of 11 megawatts that would serve up to 6,000 residents from the utility’s low-income bill assistance program. New York’s Public Utility Commission was involved in reviewing and approving Con Edison’s project. The PUC recognized that the project aligned with the state of New York’s “Reforming the Energy Vision” plan to reduce emissions and increase access to distributed generation.

Never to be outdone in the solar arena, California has committed up to $100 million per year for the next four to 10 years toward low-income solar accessibility. Last year, the Legislature passed the Multifamily Affordable Housing Solar Roofs Program, which uses funds from the state’s greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program to provide subsidies to affordable housing owners who install solar with the requirement that associated cost savings are extended to tenants.

The financial benefits that accompany these programs are largely tied to flexibility in states’ policies such as third-party ownership of solar assets and net energy metering. Third-party ownership allows for a company with adequate capital to build and bear the costs of these projects and the resident to benefit from the system. Net energy metering is the idea that consumers who generate their own electricity can use that electricity anytime, instead of at the moment it is generated. Policies like these are imperative to solar energy development.

If you are like the many Americans who love the idea of incorporating solar energy, I encourage you to reach out to your electric utility company and let them know of your interest.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: A focus on conservation, climate science

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 23, 2017.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

A focus on conservation, climate science

Once a year, I like to spread the word about an organization that is not only near and dear to me, but plays a vital role in shepherding and improving the environment in our great state and beyond.

The Nature Conservancy’s work focuses on land, water, and ocean conservation, and climate science. Formed in 1951, TNC works in 72 countries with a dedicated staff that includes more than 600 scientists.

In its earliest days, TNC accomplished its mission by acquiring land that was ecologically valuable in order to protect it. The organization also received conservation easements and held partnerships with the Bureau of Land Management. Conservation easements, somewhat analogous to the premise of historic preservation guidelines in which the landowner retains title, permits TNC the right to enforce restrictions on certain types of harmful activities. Today, 3.2 million acres are held under conservation easement.

TNC’s work has always been grounded in science, long before science was so controversial. The national organization has an annual program called the Science Impact Project that brings together exceptional and pioneering scientists from a multitude of fields who apply with a submission of a unique project. The program provides a unique way to foster collaboration and innovation to promote conservation efforts while preparing scientists to be multifaceted leaders.

Thanks to TNC, right here in Oklahoma, we have the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie on earth at the Joseph H. Williams Preserve. In fact, some of Oklahoma’s favorite in-state getaway areas benefit from our local TNC, such as Black Mesa Preserve, Keystone Ancient Forest Preserve and the J.T. Nickel Preserve in Cherokee County. These are all open to the public.

While Oklahoma has more preserves that are more limited to the public, all can be visited on what is referred to as a field trip, where the organization holds events in these great spaces. Please check out the website for these details. Many resources can be found on the website, including one called “Plant this, not that,” which offers a guide for planting native plant species rather than non-native invasive ones (read: redbuds in lieu of Bradford pears, please).

There are numerous ways to get involved with the Nature Conservancy. You can volunteer, visit a preserve, use their carbon calculator to assist you in reducing your footprint in your day-to-day life, and for a worthwhile interruption, take a virtual tour with phenomenal 360-degree videos that will remind you just how spectacular Planet Earth is. They also provide internships for both high school and undergraduate students.

I would be remiss if I did not suggest (nudge): If you have an interest in making an investment that will join with others to create a meaningful and large-scale impact for good, I suggest financially supporting the Nature Conservancy. The organization is efficient, transparent, and effective, and is ranked among the most respected nonprofits. It has met the BBB Wise Giving Alliance standards and has been recognized by Charity Navigator for its track record on accountability. I hope to see you in the great outdoors. Thanks, TNC, for all you continue to do for Oklahoma and beyond.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: The potential of offshore wind production

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 16, 2017.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

The potential of offshore wind production

There have been so many exciting clean energy topics to cover lately that I want to circle back to one that was announced in late summer.

We know onshore wind development costs continue to decrease, but as Seb Henbest from Bloomberg New Energy Finance indicated, (hinting at that group’s National Energy Outlook report) offshore wind costs are expected to fall even more rapidly than those of onshore wind. The in-depth report considers factors that will shape the sector to 2040.

This prediction is all the more likely thanks, at least in part, to U.S. Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, along with 10 of their colleagues from states all across the nation, who have introduced a bill that will encourage the development of offshore wind.

The legislation, if passed, would incentivize developers using a 30 percent investment tax credit redeemable for the first 3,000 megawatts placed into service. In an environment where incentives are being swiped from our local wind developers, it is refreshing to see a group of our nation’s representatives, diverse in both their geography and political affiliations, propose such a productive industry expansion bill.

The lawmakers suggest that volume of energy capacity would require the development of 600 wind turbines. Emphasizing the critical role the tax credit would play, the bill proposes to incentivize the first 3,000 megawatts, rather than a specific cutting off the credit on a specified date. The legislation defines “offshore facilities” broadly, including any facility located in the inland navigable waters of the United States, such as the Great Lakes, or in coastal waters including the territorial seas of the United States.

What makes this exciting is that while there is the potential to power the entire east coast with offshore, as with all burgeoning technology, costs are high. But as Europe has demonstrated, a little incentive goes a long way. The result: increased investment combines with advances in technology which lead to rapid declines in cost. It is a proverbial win-win. Or, as the authors of this new legislation called it, a “win-win-win” (domestically-produced, renewable power, cleaner air, and more American jobs).

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

NewsOK Q&A: Certificate of need laws can bridle behavioral, other care

oklahoma city health care attorney mary richard

Mary Richard is recognized as one of pioneers in Oklahoma healthcare law. She has represented institutional and non-institutional providers of health services, as well as patients and their families. She also has significant experience in representing providers in regulatory matters.

In this article, Oklahoma City healthcare attorney Mary Holloway Richard discusses Oklahoma’s Certificate of Need laws with the Daily Oklahoman newspaper.

Q: What are Certificate of Need (CON) laws and what is the status of CON in Oklahoma?

A: The history of CON laws is an interesting one. Federal law required CON for facilities that received federal funds to construct facilities. By 1978, unique CON statutes were passed in 36 states. Although the federal mandate was repealed in 1987, many states still have CON laws in place. The CON system was intended by Congress as one mechanism for controlling healthcare costs by controlling development. The idea was that unnecessary beds or services would drive up the costs and miss system efficiencies and economies of scale. Development was broadly defined to include activities ranging from new development, acquisitions, mergers, management agreements, leases, stock purchases and changes in ownership via foreclosure. The Oklahoma legislature repealed CON laws in all areas except for psychiatric and chemical dependency services and long-term care.

Q: What are current requirements for developing long-term care and behavioral health services in Oklahoma under these statutory schemes?

A: For long-term care, the Oklahoma law provides for development of long-term care services in a “ … planned orderly economical manner consistent with and appropriate to services needed by people in various (parts of Oklahoma) ….” Development must match or reflect the need demonstrated in the CON application as evaluated by the state Department of Health. The statutes also enumerate the powers of the Department of Health with regard to long-term care facilities, and services. The law applies to long-term care facilities including nursing homes, specialized facilities such as long-term acute care and skilled nursing facilities and the nursing component of continuity of care and life care communities. For psychiatric and chemical dependency service facilities, the process is outlined in the statutes and includes application requirements, findings by the state Board of Health, providing bases for the board’s decision, the opportunity for appeal of the board’s decision and an explanation of potential penalties for failure to comply.

Q: Some writers and consultants in the healthcare industry contend that these laws no longer serve the purposes for which they were created by legislatures or fail to achieve the ostensible objectives. Is this fair criticism?

A: All segments of the healthcare industry are highly regulated. There is a good argument to be made that business decisions in the healthcare space are guided by reimbursement, the impact of effectiveness and outcome metrics, and classic business principles such as market share and that, while the original ideas supporting the CON effort may have been sound, the system now provides an additional hurdle and expenses in two areas of significant needs in our state — services to the elderly and others requiring long-term care and to those suffering with behavioral health diagnoses. More specifically, Oklahoma’s CON rules apply only to hospitals so that development for treatment facilities not considered “hospitals” by the Oklahoma Department of Health are not covered by the CON procedures and limitations. The result is that addiction treatment facilities providing services, including beds, only require approval of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, which does not have its own CON process and can be developed without hindrance.

Q: Is there interest among Oklahoma lawmakers to repeal the last vestiges of CON law in Oklahoma?

A: Although this issue has come up in the last several years, it has not been successful. No such legislation was proposed in the first regular session of this legislative term, which ended in May. In terms of the status of CON laws in the nation, as of 2016, 14 states had discontinued their certificate of need requirements and 34 continued with some remnant of the CON system.

Published: 10/12/17; by Paula Burkes
Original article:

Roth: Energy policies should communicate Oklahoma is open for business

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 9, 2017.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Energy policies should communicate Oklahoma is open for business

Oklahoma wind’s positive impacts on our state are well-documented: more than $12.3 billion invested, more than 8,000 home-grown jobs and $22 million paid annually to farmers and ranchers in the form of land-lease payments, in addition to myriad other benefits. What’s more, wind energy is infinite, and its reliability has helped steady electricity costs and lower utility bills for citizens statewide.

As special session marches on, there’s no doubt our state legislators have their work cut out for them – we’ve got a historic budget hole to fill. However, we must be careful not to make decisions in a panic today that will permanently damage our state’s long-term economic health.

When other industries were forced into hiring freezes, wind energy was hiring. When drought struck Oklahoma’s farmlands, wind energy was there to supplement farmers’ and ranchers’ incomes with land-lease payments. When rural schools started suffering without resources, wind energy companies hand-delivered school supplies. Additionally, the industry is projected to pay in excess of $1.2 billion in property taxes through 2043 directly funding public schools.

However, with stakes high at the state Capitol, anti-wind special interests, lobbyists and some legislators are targeting wind energy yet again, calling for punitive measures that would place an unfair burden on this industry, even after wind energy has given up every industry-specific tax incentive. It’s important Oklahomans and our elected officials know the truth so they can protect themselves from rampant misinformation about an industry that’s invested so much in our state.

The latest threat from the anti-wind lobby surrounds Oklahoma’s manufacturing sales tax exemption, which enables any company operating in Oklahoma that applies for a specific permit the opportunity to take advantage of this exemption to offset its operation costs for purchases of machinery and equipment, energy and tangible personal property used in design, development and manufacturing. These special interests want to single out wind energy and keep them from claiming this exemption, even while all other manufacturing industries – including other members of the energy industry – are still able to participate. It just doesn’t make sense.

Exemptions like these are common and proven tools for attracting outside business investment and keeping existing business investment in a given area. Energy projects across the spectrum are known for being very capital-intensive, and often millions have been spent and countless jobs created before oil and gas companies start drilling or wind companies install turbines.

Punitively removing one industry from this exemption’s benefit only stands to drive wind energy investment to friendlier states, taking their jobs, landowner payments and taxes with them. And the risk of losing investments to neighboring states is real. Developers warn me that such a repeal would be a self-defeating step, as dollars leave the state. It is estimated that wind in Oklahoma would then be 30-50 percent more expensive than in Texas, Kansas and Nebraska. Further, Oklahoma will miss out on new investment opportunities with our Southwest Power Pool expanding to include Colorado and Wyoming, as the SPP buys electricity on low price alone. Now is not the time to drive energy investment out of Oklahoma.

We must start thinking long-term, showing diverse industries that Oklahoma is open for business. As our elected officials gather next week for special session, I’ll be calling my legislators asking them to support wind energy and keep wind investing in Oklahoma. I hope you’ll join me.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Sharp spike in EEOC lawsuits

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 5, 2017.

Byrona J. Maule is a Director and litigation attorney as well as Co-Chair of the Firm’s Labor & Employment practice group. She represents executives and companies in a wide range of business and litigation matters with a strong emphasis on employment matters.

By Phillips Murrah Director Byrona J. Maule

Fall is a time of change. But this fall, the transition from summer isn’t the only change we’re experiencing. This fall has also brought extraordinary action from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Starting in July, the EEOC has filed a flurry of federal lawsuits against both private and public employers.

In July 2017, the EEOC filed 20 lawsuits, compared to eight in July 2016, according to’s announcements. At first, I thought this was some type of anomaly, but it continued into August 2017 with another 20 lawsuits filed, compared to eight last August. In September, they filed a whopping 69 lawsuits, as opposed to 22 in September 2016. To date, the EEOC has filed 241 lawsuits in 2017, compared to 86 in all of 2016. With three months left in 2017, there is no reason to believe the rest of 2017 will trend any differently.

Other changes in the EEOC’s activity include an inclination to file suit against an employer in a single plaintiff case, as opposed to lawsuits in which the outcome would have a broad impact on society. The EEOC’s 2012-2016 Strategic Plan emphasized using litigation mechanisms to identify and attack discriminatory policies and other instances of systemic discrimination. This emphasis seems to have waned.

Considering the life cycle of an EEOC lawsuit from charge to the EEOC’s decision to file a lawsuit takes multiple years, this sharp spike in the number of merit lawsuits being filed does not indicate that workplace behavior has drastically changed in recent months. Rather, the change appears to be in the decision-making process of the EEOC when deciding if it is going to file a lawsuit and what types of lawsuits the EEOC pursues. In one recent case involving Home Depot, the EEOC filed charges despite the company’s position it had reached agreement with the EEOC on the major terms of a settlement.

What does it all mean? It is difficult to know at this point. The real significance for employers is there are significantly more lawsuits being brought by the EEOC in 2017 than at any time between 2012 and 2016. Employers need to be very aware of this, and approach EEOC charges with increased attention.

Byrona J. Maule is a partner and co-chair of the labor and employment practice group at Oklahoma City-based law firm Phillips Murrah.

Roth: National Clean Energy Week

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 2, 2017.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

National Clean Energy Week

Friday marked the end of the inaugural National Clean Energy Week. The brainchild of several energy groups and associations, the idea is to give clean energy the attention it deserves.

I, for one, am happy to oblige. Imagine this: You electrify your house with rooftop solar panels, perhaps those are backed by a Tesla home battery that provides a charge to your electric vehicle while you sleep, your geothermal system heats and cools your home using heat from the Earth’s core, and water for a hot shower comes thanks to a solar water heater.

Where any of this technology fails to provide the power you need, the local utility provides wind power and when that is intermittent, it is backed by the cleanest of the fossil fuels, natural gas. All of this is quite achievable, especially in Oklahoma, and we should all consider these innovative and renewable energies, even after the close of National Clean Energy Week.

As you ponder that, consider these recent highlights from each major renewable energy source that power our lives – wind, solar, geothermal, electric vehicles.

Wind: A newly introduced U.S. Senate bill would create a new investment tax credit to kick-start offshore wind. I look forward to following and discussing this in the future. Here in Oklahoma, the exciting news to keep your eye on has to be Public Service Co. of Oklahoma’s announcement of the Wind Catcher project that would provide PSO and SWEPCO’s areas with 2,000 megawatts of wind from the Oklahoma Panhandle.

Solar: As discussed last week, the holding pattern continues as the entire solar industry awaits the outcome of the International Trade Commission tariff case. Solar has made huge strides in the past few years and it is widely believed that it will overtake wind in the next decade or so. American jobs in solar grew at a 25-percent pace over last year to 260,077 today. The growth projections for solar energy (and solar jobs) are pretty striking since today the total U.S. installed solar capacity is around 40 gigawatts, while wind sits at approximately 82 gigawatts.

Geothermal: The science and mechanics of this source is tried and true. The perpetual heat that can be pumped using geothermal systems within “about 33,000 feet of Earth’s surface contains 50,000 times more energy than all the oil and natural gas resources in the world.” Geothermal has wide application from residential backyards to large power plants. Ask anyone who has a system installed and prepare to be shocked at how low their utility bills are all year long.

Electric Vehicles: Dyson, the company that made us enjoy vacuuming again, just announced it will join the EV industry with plans to have its version available in 2020. If Dyson remains true to its brand, the car is sure to be simple and sleek.

Move over, Elon Musk? But seriously, Tesla continues to keep us in awe, this time with a touch-screen in place of traditionally built-in dashboard controls in the new Model 3. That one starts at $35,000 and gets 220 miles of range, and may finally be in range for more consumers. Moreover, if you do not want a Tesla, there are 12 other EV choices in America today. The projections are that by 2040 more than one-third of all vehicles will be electric or plug-in hybrids.

So while it is clear that clean energy is becoming a daily thing every year going forward, the first Clean Energy Week has just concluded, but really, it has just begun.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

NewsOK Q&A: Feds paid $60 million in ‘improper’ Medicare payments last year

From NewsOK / by Paula Burkes
Published: September 29, 2017
Click to see full story – Feds paid $60 million in ‘improper’ Medicare payments last year

Click to see Mary Holloway Richard’s attorney profile

Mary Richard is recognized as one of the pioneers in health care law in Oklahoma. She has represented institutional and non-institutional providers of health services, as well as patients and their families.

Q: In 2016 the federal government paid out $60 million in “improper payments” to Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans. What are improper payments?

A: The prohibition against improper payments applies to Medicare and to the Medicare Advantage plans which stand in the place of Parts A and B but offer more choices to patients in the private insurance market. Most are HMOs, PPOs and private fee-for-service plans. “Improper payments” refers to both underpayments and overpayments. The most common payment problems are traced to insufficient documentation of the care provided. Other problems are no documentation, failure to establish medical necessity and incorrect coding. Regulators tell us that the objective is to understanding the ordering practitioner’s reasoning in evaluating and diagnosing a patient, in considering alternative course of action and in selecting a specific treatment plan with the patient. Just as physicians have been trained to document robust informed consent, they are now being called upon to document their thought processes as a way of demonstrating the legitimacy of the treatment.

Q: What action can the federal government take once an improper payment has been identified by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)?

A: The CMS is part of the Department of Health and Human Services and it has an investigative arm known as the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which is the most robust of all federal agencies’ legal and investigative arms. The OIG can investigate a provider and refer the matter to the Department of Justice to bring a criminal or civil action against the provider that can result in repayments, penalties and even incarceration. Such actions also ultimately can result in exclusion from federal payment programs and even loss of the provider’s clinical license to practice. A demand for repayment can be based on an extrapolation of a statistical sample of a provider’s claims submission and payment history.

Q: How can providers avoid making claims that result in improper payments? Are there certain kinds of providers who are at the greatest risk for coding errors?

A: In the face of this regulatory environment, providers would do well to engage in periodic preventive spot audits of their medical records documentation, coding and billing activity. Billing regulations are increasingly complex and require advanced training not only of the practitioner, but also of his or her staff, billing company and supporting professionals such as accountants and attorneys. Continuing education, coding seminars and the like are the order of the day for persons with these responsibilities.

Q: What’s the potential impact of these billing errors on patients and on providers?

A: Improper documentation can be a result of mistakes, faulty documentation or fraud. Some documentation shortcomings can be traced back to the provider’s original training or education. Others relate to the electronic records formatting, which some experts argue fosters copying responses rather than creating medical record entries for each patient. Ideally, eliminating unnecessary claims benefits the health care system financially and so ultimately benefits the patient. However, in my experience, “false claims” often represent a failure on the business side of a medical practice or facility operations in a situation where quality services were actually performed. But once characterized as an overpayment, the amount paid by the Medicare contractor must be returned despite the fact that quality services were provided.

Roth: When ‘America First’ meets American solar energy

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on September 25, 2017.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

When ‘America First’ meets American solar energy

The plot thickens in the Suniva and SolarWorld case before the International Trade Commission.

On Friday, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that imported solar panels and modules are causing serious injury to U.S. manufacturers, giving the president the final say about tariffs in this high-profile case that could unravel the American solar industry.

Parties on both sides claimed that a vote in favor (or one against) could devastate the rooftop solar industry.

Section 201 of the 1974 Trade Act refers to global safeguard investigations and is an infrequently used measure that allows a petition to be filed when domestic manufacturers assert serious injury to their industry due to an influx of foreign imports. After an investigation and finding of injury, the act authorizes the president to intervene.

U.S. solar crystalline silicon photovoltaic manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld have declared that competition from cheap imports is adversely affecting the industry here in America. The companies cite their recent bankruptcy filing and the failure of other solar manufacturers across the country in recent years as their proof.

But the industry’s trade group, Solar Energy Industries Association, also suggests that as many as 88,000 U.S. jobs – many of them solar manufacturers and installers – could be lost if the imported panels face higher tariffs, and thus were to raise the cost to Americans for solar energy. What’s more, while each has a presence in the U.S., Suniva and SolarWorld are both foreign-owned companies arguing for the American market.

So why does it matter? Power generated by solar energy has increased significantly as a viable option due in part to how cheap solar energy is becoming. This fast-moving downward cost trajectory is due to significant improvements in the technologies and also less-expensive, imported panels. It follows naturally that cheaper imports have allowed the installation side of the industry to flourish as the investments make more sense for individuals and companies to install solar on their homes and businesses. If the petitioners are granted the increased tariffs, the cost of solar panels is projected to more than double.

A remedy hearing will be held at which the commission will issue recommendations to the president. The act empowers the president to deal with those recommendations as he sees fit, including the liberty to make them more severe, less so, or not implement them at all. This fact has solar industry stakeholders paying close attention given the president’s repeated threats to increase tariffs on Chinese imports both as a way to improve U.S. manufacturing, and to bolster the coal industry by diminishing renewable energies strong growth in America.

It will be November before we know what the proposed remedy will look like. Stay tuned to see if Chinese solar panels prove to be the “tariff silver platter” the president has been requesting. While punishing cheaper imports may be an “America First” argument for manufacturers, in this instance it appears it could be the opposite effect for American consumers.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

NewsOK Q&A: Data security, cyber threats are everyone’s concern

From NewsOK / by Paula Burkes
Published: September 20, 2017
Click to see full story – Data security, cyber threats are everyone’s concern

Click to see Fred Leibrock’s attorney profile

Fred A. Leibrock is an experienced trial lawyer who has tried dozens of jury trials and has served as lead counsel in a number of significant cases involving complex, multi-jurisdiction issues.

Q: With the recent breach of Equifax, it seems that vulnerability to identity fraud is everywhere. Are there measures I can take on behalf of my company and employees to minimize risk?

A: Act now and seek professional technical assistance. Hire the right technical person or firm to help you test your systems, assess your vulnerabilities and implement your protection and recovery plans. The question isn’t whether someone will try to steal your data, but when. You need to be ready.

Q: From a legal standpoint, if my company’s data is breached, can my company be held liable for harm to employees or customers whose information may have been compromised?

A: Yes. Although this is a rapidly emerging area of the law, as a general rule an entity that is negligent in safeguarding confidential customer or employee data can be held liable as a result of a breach, or as a result of disregarding legal notice requirements after the breach. The principal question on the issue of liability is whether the entity took reasonable steps before the breach to protect the data, and after the breach to protect and notify the customers or employees. What’s reasonable is a moving target that must be determined on a case-by-case basis. However, there are few legitimate excuses in this day and age for a company to not take significant affirmative steps to safeguard electronic data.

Q: What are some of the bigger mistakes that companies make when it comes to protecting their data?

A: According to the Federal Trade Commission, the principal unreasonable practices that result in data breaches include weak password policies, lack of encryption, broad dissemination of administrative passwords, and lack of security between systems with sensitive data and other computers inside and outside the network.

Q: What measures can I take to protect my company from a data breach?

A: Engage in advance planning. To reduce the risks of a data breach, follow the recommendations of the National Institute for Standards & Technology by planning ahead of a breach to: identify the components of your systems and their vulnerabilities; protect the components from penetration; detect latent threats that may have already penetrated your systems; respond to a breach and recover from a breach. Also, train your employees to be alert to cybersecurity risks.

Q: It seems like all businesses rely on digital data transfer, whether it’s using file transfer services or sending sensitive documents through email. How do I continue to take advantage of these conveniences and still secure my information?

A: Avoid unnecessary risks. There are a million affordable products on the market that allow you to encrypt stored data and data in transmission. Use them and be willing to pay for data protection. If you must transmit sensitive data over an unsecure network, at a minimum encrypt it with a strong password before transmitting it.

Roth: Time to reap benefits of hydrogen

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on September 11, 2017.

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Time to reap benefits of hydrogen

A previous column considered hydrogen’s increased use primarily in fuel cell vehicles, but there are some exciting advancements for hydrogen’s potential use in utilities.

Innovation requires effort and capital, so augmenting the research that expands the applicability of hydrogen is key. Hydrogen is not just for NASA’s rockets or, worse yet, even for North Korea’s crazy rocket testing. Hydrogen is used all over the world to fuel public buses, material-handling vehicles like forklifts, and as mentioned, fuel cell vehicles. Hydrogen can help solve energy problems in the future, but the research needs continued funding.

Promisingly, several corporations are leading the charge, as well as great work by the National Renewable Energy Laboratories.

I open with a reference to NREL, which is known as a neutral organization, owned by the U.S. government and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, but run by a private contractor, because, as always, there is another side to hydrogen’s uptick: the side against it.

First as a refresher, some high points of hydrogen’s potential as a fuel. It can be stored indefinitely and transported easily, which makes it a viable solution to the intermittency issues posed by some renewable energy. Timeless storage and ease of transport also make hydrogen fuel cells more efficient and longer-lasting than lithium-ion battery technology, which is currently experiencing a zenith.

Tesla co-founder Elon Musk is quoted saying hydrogen as fuel “is incredibly dumb,” but comparing hydrogen cell-fueled to purely electric vehicles at this point would be to undermine its potential – the technology just isn’t as developed yet. When we were all carrying (and impressed by the capabilities of) PDAs, it is a great thing that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak proceeded with the technology that would give us iPhones, though at the time, it probably seemed far-fetched.

Other naysayers cite a lack of infrastructure. The counterargument to this has to be: Were there cellphone charging stations inside airports in 2010? Demand can produce the infrastructure, although its growth may be incremental.

I prefer the old adage “rising tides lift all boats.” Obviously, the future of hydrogen cell-powered vehicles is yet to be seen, but it is exciting to think of yet another clean energy option, which Oklahoma can strongly contribute. It’s also interesting to think, as Motley Fool recently stated, that investing in certain hydrogen fuel cell stocks today is likely akin to buying Amazon stock in 1997 ($5,000 then, worth $1M now). Please consult your own investment expert before following that advice.

But nonetheless, if since the 1970s NASA could use hydrogen to fuel its space shuttle and also allow the crew to safely drink the byproduct of that fuel, then isn’t it high-time the rest of us reap some of the benefits of abundant hydrogen here on Earth?

Major global companies like Royal Dutch Shell, Total SA and Toyota have formed a hydrogen council of 13 energy, transport and industrial companies to consult with public policymakers about the promise of hydrogen. They have committed nearly 11 billion euros in hydrogen-related products within the next five years and are betting that batteries are not the only way that hydrogen can help reduce pollution in cars, homes, utilities and businesses. That type of push may just be what hydrogen needs to get off the ground.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

NewsOK Q&A: Forced pooling in mineral land leasing has upsides, downsides

From NewsOK / by Paula Burkes
Published: August 31, 2017
Click to see full story – Forced pooling in mineral land leasing has upsides, downsides

Click to see Melissa Gardner’s attorney profile

Melissa Gardner is a Director who practices in the Energy & Natural Resources Practice Group.

Q: If you’re approached about leasing minerals, do you have options?

A: You do have options. However, none of those options include avoiding leasing your minerals. In Oklahoma, the development of minerals is a compelling state interest. Therefore, if you refuse to lease your minerals, you will be subject to forced pooling. Forced pooling of minerals is similar, in many ways, to acquiring property via eminent domain. However, in this context, it’s a private company acquiring the minerals for a period of time to develop a spacing unit. Because such acquisition is a “taking,” it’s in a much more limited form than leasing the same minerals.

Q: Why would the state allow companies to “take” individuals’ minerals?

A: If an individual in the middle of a spacing unit refused to negotiate or lease their minerals to an operator, their “holdout” would prevent the surrounding mineral owners from developing their assets. This, combined with the aforementioned state interest of developing oil and gas in our state, has led courts and the Legislature to determine it’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure production.

Q: What are the pros and cons of leasing versus being made subject to a forced pooling order?

A: If you choose to sign a lease, you will have the ability to negotiate more of the specifics of the usage of your minerals. You are in a position to get the oil and gas companies to agree to some conditions and special provisions. If you are subject to a forced pooling (as managed by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission), you’re not in a position to negotiate these details.

Second, you can negotiate bonus and royalty costs. If you are subject to a forced pooling order, you’re given three options, being a combination of the prevailing prices in the surrounding areas, with no option to negotiate those prices. In the alternative, if you allow yourself to be subject to the OCC forced pooling order, the applicant is given a shorter time within which it has to commence operations. The average lease is valid for three to five years, whereas the average pooling order is valid for six months to a year, both of which extend after production has been initiated. This keeps your minerals under contract for a shorter period of time.

Additionally, the minerals only are forced pooled as to certain, limited geological formations. If a well is drilled and producing from those zones, your minerals are still open and unleased as to other, non-pooled zones. In the alternative, most leases cover all depths or, at a minimum, from the surface to a certain depth below the surface. Finally, forced pooling orders expire at the end of production. If a producing well is drilled during the first year of a five-year lease and only produces for two years, the lease remains valid, and your minerals remain unmarketable for re-lease, for an additional three years.