A Regulatory Retreat: Energy Market Exemption from Private Anti-Manipulation Actions under the Commodity Exchange Act



In order to facilitate greater reform in energy markets, Dodd-Frank granted the CFTC wide-ranging powers as part of the greater mandate given to the CFTC in relation to OTC-swaps and the daily derivatives trading activity in commodities futures and options markets. As a result, Dodd-Frank subjected electricity market transactions—which traditionally occur under the oversight of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in markets organized around independent system operators and regional transmission organizations—to the anti-manipulation prohibitions of the Commodity Exchange Act.

Thus, differently from FERC’s regime, the post-Dodd-Frank statutory framework opened the way for enforcement of market discipline in electricity markets through a private right of action under Section 22 of the CEA. This development drew strong opposition from the industry, and also caused a conflict between courts and the CFTC in the interpretation of the relevant law. In October of 2016, the CFTC stepped back by issuing a final exemptive order to the participants of seven national energy markets, which constitute almost the entire U.S. wholesale electricity market. The withdrawal of the private right of action conflicts with the position previously advocated by the CFTC itself. It also raises questions about the CFTC’s use of its exemptive powers, as the removal of a statutory right through agency rulemaking may potentially be in conflict with the text and statutory purpose of the CEA as amended by Dodd-Frank.

The exemption not only removes an important tool in enforcing market discipline, but also has the potential to undermine the reform efforts in the transition of U.S. energy markets to a smart grid. This Note will provide a history of the developments that have unfolded since the enactment of Dodd-Frank in relation to the availability of a private right of action under the CEA in energy markets. The Note also analyzes commonly raised arguments against the availability of a private right of action and presents the various counter-arguments.



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Fordham Journal of Corporate & Financial Law