The Ninth Circuit upheld the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to study only the project and the no action alternative in an EIS for a new passenger terminal. However, the court found the FAA violated NEPA by failing to account for the combined noise that could result from the simultaneous operation of different types of construction
On January 26, 2021, attorneys from Perkins Coie presented the 31st Annual Land Use and Development Law Briefing. Topics included:
- Key Developments in Land Use Law
- Legislative Changes Affecting Housing Development
- CEQA: Key Cases and Trends
- COVID 19 — Real Estate Impacts
- Wetlands, Endangered Species and NEPA Update
A full set of the written materials,…
The Ninth Circuit vacated U.S. Department of the Interior approvals for a proposed offshore oil drilling and production facility in Alaska after finding its EIS improperly failed to consider impacts associated with foreign oil consumption and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion relied on overly vague mitigation measures and improperly failed to quantify the project’s nonlethal take of polar bears. Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, 982 F.3d 723 (9th Cir. 2020).
Conservation groups challenged the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) approval of the “Liberty Project,” which proposes to produce crude oil from Foggy Island Bay off the northern coast of Alaska, for failure to comply with procedural requirements of NEPA, the ESA, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Project proponents estimated that the Project would produce approximately 120 million barrels of crude oil over a period of fifteen to twenty years. To do so, the Project would require construction of various new facilities including an offshore gravel island, wells, a pipeline to transport the oil, a gravel mine, and additional ice roads and crossings. The Project site is characterized by its ecological diversity and for providing habitat and food sources for threatened and endangered marine mammals, including polar bears.
EIS That Failed to Address Greenhouse Gas Emissions Resulting from Foreign Oil Consumption Violated NEPA
The Ninth Circuit was persuaded by one of two arguments raised by the conservation groups concerning BOEM’s compliance with NEPA. The court held that BOEM had failed to analyze “indirect effects” of the Project as required by NEPA by arbitrarily failing to include emissions estimates resulting from foreign oil consumption in its analysis of the Project’s no-action alternative. Counterintuitively, the EIS had concluded that maintaining the status quo under the no-action alternative would result in greater air emissions of priority pollutants as compared with the Project because, BOEM said, the production gap would be filled with substitutes produced from countries with “comparatively weaker environmental protection standards.” However, the EIR did not quantify the purported change in foreign oil consumption. BOEM argued that it could not have summarized or estimated foreign emissions associated with changes in foreign consumption with accurate or credible scientific evidence.
The court rejected BOEM’s failure to either quantify downstream greenhouse gas emissions or to “thoroughly explain why such an estimate is impossible.” The court specifically faulted the EIR for failing to “summarize existing research addressing foreign oil emissions” and for ignoring “basic economics principles,” including changes to equilibrium price and demand effects of the Project. Moreover, the court declined to accord deference to BOEM’s economic analysis of greenhouse gas emissions, stating that “BOEM’s area of expertise is the management of ‘conventional (e.g. oil and gas) and renewable energy-related’ functions, including ‘activities involving resource evaluation, planning, and leasing.’” Based on these findings, the court found that the BOEM’s failure to address global emissions constituted an impermissible failure to evaluate reasonably foreseeable environmental impacts required to be analyzed under NEPA.
Continue Reading EIS and Biological Opinion Invalidated for Offshore Alaska Oil Project
Courts reviewing an agency’s environmental assessment under NEPA may not speculate about potential significant environmental effects that are not supported by the record — they must defer to the agency’s reasonable conclusions when they are supported by evidence in the record, especially on issues within the agency’s area of expertise. Bair v. California Department of Transportation, 982 F.3d 569 (9th Cir. 2020).
This decision is the latest in long-running litigation challenging Caltrans’s plans to improve a one-mile section of U.S. 101 through Richardson Grove State Park. In its current condition, the highway section is closed to industry-standard trucks (known as “STAA” trucks because they are authorized by the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982); only shorter “California Legal” trucks are permitted. To safely accommodate STAA trucks, the project would slightly widen the roadway and straighten some curves.
Caltrans issued an Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact. (Caltrans assumed the role of federal lead agency for the project pursuant to the NEPA assignment program.) The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in federal district court, alleging, among other claims, that the EA failed to adequately analyze the project’s effects on old-growth redwood trees and park visitors, and that Caltrans should have prepared an environmental impact statement because the project would have significant environmental effects. The district court ruled that the EA was inadequate and ordered Caltrans to prepare an EIS for the project.
The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court did not give appropriate deference to Caltrans’s conclusions and improperly relied upon inferences and speculation about environmental effects that were unsupported by the record.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Upholds Environmental Assessment for Highway Project in State Park
A federal agency is not required to prepare an environmental impact statement for an action with uncertain environmental effects if the agency reasonably predicts that the effects will not be significant based on available evidence. American Wild Horse Campaign v. Bernhardt, 963 F.3d 1001 (9th Cir. 2020).
The plaintiffs challenged the Bureau of Land…
An agency must prepare an environmental impact statement when it fails to address expert scientific evidence that undermines its conclusions about a project’s environmental effects. An agency also must prepare an EIS when there are substantial questions about whether a project will have a cumulatively significant impact. Bark v. U.S. Forest Service, 958 F.3d…
A recent Ninth Circuit decision offers guidance on evaluating connected actions and cumulative impacts under NEPA. The court held that an agency can defer consideration of an action’s cumulative impacts in an EIS when the agency makes clear that it intends to evaluate the cumulative impacts in a later EIS. The court also held that…
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a U.S. Forest Service plan for commercial logging of some 4,700 acres of fire-damaged Mendocino National Forest could not reasonably be interpreted as falling within a NEPA categorical exclusion for “road repair and maintenance.” EPIC v Carlson, 968 F.3d 985 (9th Cir. 2020).
The 2018 Ranch…
The Ninth Circuit held that a 2012 Environmental Impact Statement that provided a programmatic-level analysis for management of lands in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve could also be used as the site-specific analysis for oil and gas lease sales. Northern Alaska Environmental Center v. U.S. Department of Interior, No.19-35008 (9th Cir., July 9, 2020).…
On January 10, the White House Council on Environmental Quality published significant revisions to regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, the first such overhaul since adoption of the regulations in 1978. The proposed rules are comprehensive and wide-ranging, and have significant ramifications for the extensive range of projects that are carried out by the…