(a) Purpose and scope. This section governs off-the-record communications with the Commission in a manner that permits fully informed decision making by the Commission while ensuring the integrity and fairness of the Commission's decisional process. This rule will apply to all contested on-the-record proceedings, except that the Commission may, by rule or order, modify any provision of this subpart, as it applies to all or part of a proceeding, to the extent permitted by law.
(b) General rule prohibiting off-the-record communications. Except as permitted in paragraph (e) of this section, in any contested on-the-record proceeding, no person outside the Commission shall make or knowingly cause to be made to any decisional employee, and no decisional employee shall make or knowingly cause to be made to any person outside the Commission, any off-the-record communication.
(c) Definitions. For purposes of this section:
(1) Contested on-the-record proceeding means
(i) Except as provided in paragraph (c)(1)(ii) of this section, any proceeding before the Commission to which there is a right to intervene and in which an intervenor disputes any material issue, any proceeding initiated pursuant to rule 206 by the filing of a complaint with the Commission, any proceeding initiated by the Commission on its own motion or in response to a filing, or any proceeding arising from an investigation under part 1b of this chapter beginning from the time the Commission initiates a proceeding governed by part 385 of this chapter.
(ii) The term does not include notice-and-comment rulemakings under 5 U.S.C. 553, investigations under part 1b of this chapter, proceedings not having a party or parties, or any proceeding in which no party disputes any material issue.
(2) Contractor means a direct Commission contractor and its subcontractors, or a third-party contractor and its subcontractors, working subject to Commission supervision and control.
(3) Decisional employee means a Commissioner or member of his or her personal staff, an administrative law judge, or any other employee of the Commission, or contractor, who is or may reasonably be expected to be involved in the decisional process of a proceeding, but does not include an employee designated as part of the Commission's trial staff in a proceeding, a settlement judge appointed under Rule 603, a neutral (other than an arbitrator) under Rule 604 in an alternative dispute resolution proceeding, or an employee designated as being non-decisional in a proceeding.
(4) Off-the-record communication means any communication relevant to the merits of a contested on-the-record proceeding that, if written, is not filed with the Secretary and not served on the parties to the proceeding in accordance with Rule 2010, or if oral, is made without reasonable prior notice to the parties to the proceeding and without the opportunity for such parties to be present when the communication is made.
(5) Relevant to the merits means capable of affecting the outcome of a proceeding, or of influencing a decision, or providing an opportunity to influence a decision, on any issue in the proceeding, but does not include:
(i) Procedural inquiries, such as a request for information relating solely to the status of a proceeding, unless the inquiry states or implies a preference for a particular party or position, or is otherwise intended, directly or indirectly, to address the merits or influence the outcome of a proceeding;
(ii) A general background or broad policy discussion involving an industry or a substantial segment of an industry, where the discussion occurs outside the context of any particular proceeding involving a party or parties and does not address the specific merits of the proceeding; or,
(iii) Communications relating to compliance matters not the subject of an ongoing proceeding.
(d) Applicability of prohibitions.
(1) The prohibitions in paragraph (b) of this section apply to:
(i) Proceedings initiated by the Commission from the time an order initiating the proceeding is issued;
(ii) Proceedings returned to the Commission on judicial remand from the date the court issues its mandate;
(iii) Complaints initiated pursuant to rule 206 from the date of the filing of the complaint with the Commission, or from the date the Commission initiates an investigation (other than an investigation under part 1b of this chapter) on its own motion; and
(iv) All other proceedings from the time of the filing of an intervention disputing any material issue that is the subject of a proceeding.
(2) The prohibitions remain in force until:
(i) A final Commission decision or other final order disposing of the merits of the proceeding is issued; or, when applicable, after the time for seeking rehearing of a final Commission decision, or other final order disposing of the merits, expires;
(ii) The Commission otherwise terminates the proceeding; or
(iii) The proceeding is no longer contested.
(e) Exempt off-the-record communications.
(1) Except as provided by paragraph (e)(2), the general prohibitions in paragraph (b) of this section do not apply to:
(i) An off-the-record communication permitted by law and authorized by the Commission;
(ii) An off-the-record communication related to any emergency concerning a facility regulated by the Commission or a facility that provides Commission-regulated services, involving injury or threat of injury to persons, property, or the environment, subject to disclosure under paragraph (g) of this section;
(iii) An off-the-record communication provided for in a written agreement among all parties to a proceeding that has been approved by the Commission;
(iv) An off-the-record written communication from a non-party elected official, subject to disclosure under paragraph (g) of this section;
(v) An off-the-record communication to or from a Federal, state, local or Tribal agency that is not a party in the Commission proceeding, subject to disclosure under paragraph (g) of this section, if the communication involves:
(A) an oral or written response to a request for information made by the Commission or Commission staff; or
(B) a matter before the Commission in which a Federal, state, local, or Tribal agency has regulatory responsibilities, including authority to impose or recommend conditions in connection with a Commission license, certificate, or exemption;
(vi) An off-the-record communication, subject to disclosure under paragraph (g) of this section, that relates to:
(A) The preparation of an environmental impact statement if communications occur prior to the issuance of the final environmental impact statement; or
(B) The preparation of an environmental assessment where the Commission has determined to solicit public comment on the environmental assessment, if such communications occur prior to the issuance of the final environmental document.
(vii) An off-the-record communication involving individual landowners who are not parties to the proceeding and whose property would be used or abuts property that would be used by the project that is the subject of the proceeding, subject to disclosure under paragraph (g) of this section.
(viii) An off-the-record communication from any person related to any national security-related issue concerning a facility regulated by the Commission or a facility that provides Commission-regulated services.
(2) Except as may be provided by Commission order in a proceeding to which this subpart applies, the exceptions listed under paragraph (e)(1) will not apply to any off-the-record communications made to or by a presiding officer in any proceeding set for hearing under subpart E of this part.
(f) Treatment of prohibited off-the-record communications -
(1) Commission consideration. Prohibited off-the-record communications will not be considered part of the record for decision in the applicable Commission proceeding, except to the extent that the Commission by order determines otherwise.
(2) Disclosure requirement. Any decisional employee who makes or receives a prohibited off-the-record communication will promptly submit to the Secretary that communication, if written, or a summary of the substance of that communication, if oral. The Secretary will place the communication or the summary in the public file associated with, but not part of, the decisional record of the proceeding.
(3) Responses to prohibited off-the-record communications. Any party may file a response to a prohibited off-the-record communication placed in the public file under paragraph (f)(2) of this section. A party may also file a written request to have the prohibited off-the-record communication and the response included in the decisional record of the proceeding. The communication and the response will be made a part of the decisional record if the request is granted by the Commission.
(4) Service of prohibited off-the-record communications. The Secretary will instruct any person making a prohibited written off-the-record communication to serve the document, pursuant to Rule 2010, on all parties listed on the Commission's official service list for the applicable proceeding.
(g) Disclosure of exempt off-the-record communications.
(1) Any document, or a summary of the substance of any oral communication, obtained through an exempt off-the-record communication under paragraphs (e)(1)(ii), (iv), (v), (vi) or (vii) of this section, promptly will be submitted to the Secretary and placed in the decisional record of the relevant Commission proceeding, unless the communication was with a cooperating agency as described by 40 CFR 1501.6, made under paragraph (e)(1)(v) of this section.
(2) Any person may respond to an exempted off-the-record communication.
(3) Any document, or a summary of the substance of any oral communications, obtained through an exempt off-the-record communication under paragraphs (e)(1)(viii) of this section, will be submitted promptly to the Secretary and placed in a non-public decisional file of the relevant Commission proceeding and made available to parties to the proceeding, subject to their signing a non-disclosure agreement. Responses will also be placed in the non-public decisional file and held confidential. If the Commission determines that the communication does not contain sensitive national security-related information, it will be placed in the decisional file.
(h) Public notice requirement of prohibited and exempt off-the-record communications.
(1) The Secretary will, not less than every 14 days, issue a public notice listing any prohibited off-the-record communications or summaries of the communication received by his or her office. For each prohibited off-the-record communication the Secretary places in the non-decisional public file under paragraph (f)(2) of this section, the notice will identify the maker of the off-the-record communication, the date the off-the-record communication was received, and the docket number to which it relates.
(2) The Secretary will not less than every 14 days, issue a public notice listing any exempt off-the-record communications or summaries of the communication received by the Secretary for inclusion in the decisional record and required to be disclosed under paragraph (g)(1) of this section.
(1) If a party or its agent or representative knowingly makes or causes to be made a prohibited off-the-record communication, the Commission may require the party, agent, or representative to show cause why the party's claim or interest in the proceeding should not be dismissed, denied, disregarded, or otherwise adversely affected because of the prohibited off-the-record communication.
(2) If a person knowingly makes or causes to be made a prohibited off-the-record communication, the Commission may disqualify and deny the person, temporarily or permanently, the privilege of practicing or appearing before it, in accordance with Rule 2102 (Suspension).
(3) Commission employees who are found to have knowingly violated this rule may be subject to the disciplinary actions prescribed by the agency's administrative directives.
(j) Section not exclusive.
(1) The Commission may, by rule or order, modify any provision of this section as it applies to all or part of a proceeding, to the extent permitted by law.
(2) The provisions of this section are not intended to limit the authority of a decisional employee to decline to engage in permitted off-the-record communications, or where not required by any law, statute or regulation, to make a public disclosure of any exempted off-the-record communication.
[Order 607-A, 65 FR 71254, Nov. 30, 2000, as amended by Order 623, 66 FR 67482, Dec. 31, 2001; Order 699, 72 FR 45328, Aug. 14, 2007; Order 718, 73 FR 62886, Oct. 22, 2008; Order 756, 77 FR 4895, Feb. 1, 2012]