Category Archives: NEPA

Trump’s Impact on Environmental Law? Let the Speculation Begin!

What will a Trump Presidency mean for environmental law?  trump-climateI’m not sure my crystal ball is better than anyone else’s, but here are a few quick thoughts:

  • It’s still going to be difficult to amend the key statutes, unless the GOP goes nuclear with the filibuster rules.  I don’t see Clean Air Act amendments happening.  Significant amendments might be possible to the Endangered Species Act and Superfund.…
  • More

Back to the Fracking Drawing Board for BLM? Fracking’s Risks Are Too Obvious to Ignore

Last week, Judge Michael Fitzgerald granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs in a citizen suit alleging that BLM’s usdoiblmEnvironmental Impact Statement prepared to address whether to open certain lands in California to mineral development was inadequate.  Judge Fitzgerald concluded that the EIS pretty much completely failed to address the potential risks of fracking and that, as a result, the EIS did not comply with NEPA.… More

The Arbitrary and Capricious Standard Remains Deferential: The Corps’ Nationwide Permit 21 Survives Review

Late last week, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected challenges to the Army Corps’ Nationwide Permit 21, which allows small surface mining projects to proceed without individual permits under § 404.  black-warrior-river

The plaintiffs argued that NWP 21 was arbitrary and capricious because the Corps imposed numeric limitations on new projects – and described those limitations as “necessary” to prevent more than minimal environmental harm – but did not impose those same numeric limitations on existing projects.… More

NEPA Does Not Require An Agency To Guarantee Project Compliance with Environmental Laws

In an interesting decision last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected challenges to BLM’s decision to issue a right-of-way permit for Tule Wind’s plan for a wind farm southeast of San Diego.  tule-support-buttonIt’s not exactly earthshattering, but it is a helpful decision both for decisionmakers reviewing wind farm applications and for wind farm developers.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • BLM’s inclusion of DOI’s goal under the 2005 Energy Policy Act to increase nonhydropower renewable energy on federal lands as part of the “purpose and need”…
  • More

Coming Soon to a Project Near You: Advance Compensation

Earlier this month, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum on “Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment.”  mitigationsignIf that portentous title isn’t enough to make developers quiver in their boots, how about this first line?

We all have a moral obligation to the next generation to leave America’s natural resources in better condition than when we inherited them.… More

No Short Cuts Allowed: The FWS Must Comply with NEPA Before Extending Programmatic Take Permits to 30 Years

Earlier this month, the Judge Lucy Koh set aside the Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision to extend its programmatic permit for bald and golden eagle SOARING EAGLE-1000 pixels widetakes from five to 30 years.  The extension was sought by the wind industry for the obvious reason that the uncertainty attached to a five-year permit makes financing a 20- or 30-year project very difficult.  I agree with the concern and support the extension,… More

DOE Releases Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Northern Pass Project

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Northern Pass Transmission, LLC’s proposed 187-mile transmission line across the United States-Canada border in New Hampshire.

If approved, the line would have the ability to deliver 1200 MW of hydroelectric power from Quebec into southern New England—a potentially tantalizing amount of power for policymakers seeking to diversify the region’s generation portfolio and lower its GHG emissions.… More

FWS To Authorize Incidental Takes Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act?

Late last month, the Fish & Wildlife Service issued a Notice of Intent to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement to evaluate various options for authorizing incidental takes under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  Of likely the greatest interest to the regulated community, FWS will consider issuing general permits, with performance standards, for certain industry sectors.  FWS specifically called out the following sectors:

Environmental Impact Assessments Don’t Have to Be Wise, But They May Not Assume Their Conclusion

In an important decision last week, United States District Judge Jorge Alonso rejected the Environmental Impact Statement for the Illiana Corridor Project, Illianawhich would connect I55 in Illinois to I65 in Indiana. (And why Illiana?  Why not Indianois?)

The two key criticisms were raised by metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in Illinois and Indiana.  First, they argued that DOT used a “market-based” population forecast that showed much faster growth in rural areas than the “policy-based” forecast used by the planning agencies. … More

NEPA Review — Still the Land of Deference

Last week, District Judge Ralph Beistline allowed the summary judgment motion filed by the United States Forest Service, and dismissed citizen claims challenging the Forest Service decision to approve an logging project in an old growth area in the Tongass National Forest tongass 2known as Big Thorne.  The case seems interesting because of the deference Judge Beistline showed to the Forest Service.  Reading between the lines of the record,… More

Does Offshore Wind Finally Have The Wind At Its Back? DOI Announces Plan For Largest Auction To Date

Earlier this week, DOI Secretary Jewell joined with Governor Patrick to announce plans to auction more than 1,000 square miles on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore Massachusetts for wind energy development. The auction, which will be implemented as four separate leases, pretty much will follow the form of earlier lease auctions:

• Bidders will be prequalified to participate in the auction

• The auction will include multiple factors,… More

How Powerful is the Endangered Species Act? Just Ask the Delta Smelt

The Endangered Species Act is a powerful tool for the protection of threatened and endangered species and their habitats.  Just how powerful was made clear last week when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals largely reversed a trial court opinion and essentially sustained actions taken by the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the delta smelt.  Delta SmeltThe “reasonable and prudent alternatives” identified in the Biological Opinion issued by the FWS will result in substantially less water being exported from northern California to southern California.… More

The Federal Tail Should Not Wag the Non-Federal Dog: The Sixth Circuit Concludes that the Corps’ Review of Mountaintop Removal Projects Is Limited

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled, in Kentuckians for the Commonwealth v. Army Corps of Engineers, that the scope of review by the Army Corps of Engineers of § 404 permit applications for fills related to mountaintop removal mining is limited to impacts directly related to the filling operations that require a permit, rather than the overall impacts of the mining project.

The case concerned a mountaintop removal project by Leeco in Perry County,… More

The Ninth Circuit Addresses NEPA’s Goldilocks Problem: How Many Alternatives Are Just Enough?

One of the critical elements of NEPA is that project proponents must assess the feasibility and impacts of not only the preferred alternative, but also a range of alternatives.  However, there is a tension in NEPA, because it is widely understood that the proponent, and not either courts or opponents, get to define its own project.  On the other hand, the proponent may not define the project so narrowly that its preferred alternative is the only one remaining.… More

BOEM Gives a Lesson on How Not To Survive NEPA Review

Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs that the Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to support oil and gas leasing in the Chukchi Sea was flawed.  Although the decision was split and the Ninth Circuit’s track record on appeal is less than perfect, I think that they probably got it right.  Moreover, the flaws identified by the court provide a useful lesson to agencies in performing environmental analysis of probabilistic outcomes.… More

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise: An Agency Cannot Revise Regulations In a Consent Decree

In a decision that should not have come as a surprise to anyone, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday, in Conservation Northwest v. Sherman, that the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies implementing the Northwest Forest Plan could not amend the NFP without complying with the procedural requirements of the Federal Land Policy Management Act.  The rationale of the decision should apply far more broadly than just the FLPMA,… More

Can Wind Energy Serve As Baseload Power? The First Circuit Agrees with the NRC That, For Now, The Answer Is “Not Yet.”

In an interesting decision issued last Friday, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Beyond Nuclear v. NextEra Energy Seabrook, affirmed the decision by the NRC rejecting a challenge to Seabrook’s relicensing posed by a coalition of environmental groups.  The decision seems clearly correct, but raises an important policy issue that is likely to recur as renewable energy technologies advance,… More

Another Step Forward for Offshore Wind: BOEM Releases Its EA for the Massachusetts Offshore Wind Energy Area

ma-wea-noaa-06-05-12-12-2On Friday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released its Environmental Assessment for the Massachusetts outer continental shelf offshore Wind Energy Area. The EA does not permit construction of any turbines. It merely provides the basis for issuance of leases, pursuant to which the leaseholders would have the authority to perform the necessary detailed environmental and feasibility studies to determine whether to proceed with construction of turbines.… More

An Example of True Judicial Restraint: Judge Robert Chambers Affirms the Highland Mining 404 Permit

After my post on judicial restraint – and the lack thereof – in Texas v. EPA, the opinion issued last week by Judge Robert Chambers, in Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, affirming the Corps’ § 404 permit for Highland Mining’s Reylas Surface Mine, seemed particularly notable. I cannot recall of similar example of a judge who was almost visibly restraining himself,… More

More Developments in Off-Shore Wind: BOEM Releases ENF for Rhode Island and Massachusetts

Last week, I noted that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced that it had identified an area for commercial wind energy leasing offshore Massachusetts. This week, BOEM announced the availability of an Environmental Assessment to support commercial leases in an adjoining parcel offshore both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  (Couldn’t find a photo with good resolution.  The figure is obviously in the EA,… More

BOEM Identifies a Wind Energy Area offshore Massachusetts: Will the Next Project Take Less Time Than Cape Wind?

offshore wind areasLast Wednesday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced that it has identified an area offshore Massachusetts for commercial wind energy development. BOEM narrowed the area somewhat from what had been proposed, based on certain wildlife concerns. Although the identification of the area as part of the Department of the Interior’s Smart from the Start program will allow expedited permitting, individual projects by lessees would be subject to NEPA.… More

CEQ Issues Guidance For Streamlining NEPA Reviews: Can You Say “Content-Free”?

The Council on Environmental Quality has released it guidance on “Improving the Process for Preparing Efficient and Timely Environmental Reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.” As far as I can tell, the guidance provides literally nothing on improving the process. It is instead a compendium of how wonderful the process already is in allowing and encouraging appropriate flexibility in complying with NEPA. I’m not sold.

In fairness,… More

One Small Step Forward For Mid-Atlantic Offshore Wind Development

offshore-wind-power-7259Yesterday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a notice of availability for the Environmental Assessment it prepared in connection with the issuance of leases for wind energy development off the coast of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. The EA includes a Finding of No Significant Impact, or FONSI. In other words, BOEM concluded that the issuance of leases does not require a full blown Environmental Impact Report.… More

Is Massachusetts the NIMBY Capital of the World? What Will Be the Impact of the Wind Turbine Health Impact Study?

Yesterday, the “Independent Expert Panel” convened by MassDEP to review whether wind turbines cause any adverse health effects issued its report. I was pleased that the headline in the Boston Globe was that “Wind turbines don’t cause health problems.” Similarly, the Daily Environment Report headline was that “Massachusetts Study Finds ‘No Evidence’ of Health Impacts from Wind Turbines.” 

I hope that that’s the way the report will be read,… More

Has the Battle Begun? A Look at One of the Front Lines of the Adaptation Issue

A story in today’s Boston Globe makes clear that, at least in states where it is permissible to use the words “climate” and “change” in the same sentence, the battle over adaption may no longer be hypothetical. The neighborhood known as East Boston is one that might appropriately be described as having unfulfilled potential. Last month, at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Mayor Menino pledged to revive East Boston, specifically calling out five projects that have been on the drawing board for some time.… More

Dog Bites Man: Environmental Impact Edition

Casablanca36Earlier this week, Greenwire noted a Los Angeles Times story reporting that businesses are using the California Environmental Quality Act – California’s version of NEPA – as a tool of economic competition, trying to kill or delay projects for economic reasons. Much like Claude Rains, I am shocked, shocked, to find that there is strategic litigation going on here. In the past two years,… More

Go Ahead and Destroy the Environment; NEPA Won’t Stop You

Strawberry CanyonIt is, as the lawyers say, black letter law that the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, is a procedural statute, which provides no substantive protection to the environment. It merely requires the appropriate level of assessment of the potential environmental consequences of federal action. Whether the action should be taken is outside NEPA’s purview.

Rarely, however, has this critical limitation on NEPA’s scope been stated so plainly as in yesterday’s decision in Save Strawberry Canyon v.… More

The Battle Over Guidance Is Joined Again: EPA Finalizes Its Mountaintop Removal Guidance

mountain_topThe fight about guidance and rules is in the news again. Yesterday, EPA finalized its guidance on Clean Water Act permitting with respect to mountaintop mining. As most of our readers know, EPA issued Interim Guidance in April 2010. In January 2011, in National Mining Association v. Jackson, Judge Reggie Walton, while denying plaintiff’s preliminary injunction, signaled that he thought that EPA’s Interim Guidance probably was a legislative rule that should have gone through notice and comment rule-making.… More

Judicial Restraint in NEPA Cases: How Many Judges Allow “Unwise” Agency Action?

This week, in Webster v. USDA, Judge John Bailey of the Northern District of West Virginia rejected a challenge to the Environmental Impact Statement filed for a USDA flood control project. The decision is not particularly startling and does not break new ground, but it does serve as a reminder just how limited judicial review under NEPA is supposed to be – and just how often that limitation is honored only in the breach,… More

First Circuit Finds Coast Guard Violated NEPA in Attempt to Preempt Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act

While not ones to unnecessarily toot our own horns, the First Circuit’s decision in United States et al. v. Coalition for Buzzards Bay et al. is worth a read. We (specifically, Buzzards Bay Guardian Jonathan Ettinger, Amy Boyd, and I) have been representing the recently-renamed Buzzards Bay Coalition in this case for a number of years and yesterday’s decision represents both a victory for the Coalition and an important First Circuit precedent with respect to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).… More

Dog Bites Man: NEPA Reviews Are Getting More Complex

Stop the presses: According to the Daily Environment Report, EPA’s director of the Office of Federal Activities, Susan Bromm, has acknowledged that concerns about climate change and environmental justice are “contributing to the size, cost, and time-consuming nature of environmental impact statements….” Nonetheless, Ms. Bromm apparently asserted that these "analyses do not have to be overwhelming,” and she blamed, at least in part, agencies which “overreact to the fear of litigation.”… More

What’s Next for Carbon Capture and Storage?

In February, President Obama tasked the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage with the ambitious goal of overcoming the barriers to widespread, cost-effective deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) within the next 10 years.  As the first bold step, the 14-agency and executive department group released its findings in a report on August 12.

The report concludes that widespread cost-effective deployment of CCS will only occur if the technology is commercially available (i.e.… More

Patchwork or Preemption, Redux

Yesterday, Senator Lieberman (I -CT) confirmed that the climate bill that he, Senator Kerry (D-MA) and Senator Graham (R-SC) plan to announce next week will include preemption of state and federal initiatives, including EPA’s Clean Air Act authority.  Leaving aside the potential in his statement for the bill to also preempt state renewable energy and efficiency programs, the goal of predictability and one nationwide cap-and-trade system is an approach that we endorsed a few weeks ago,… More

There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch: You Choose, Renewable Energy or Endangered Bats

On Tuesday, District Judge Roger Titus issued an injunction against the construction of the Beech Ridge Energy wind project – 122 wind turbines along 23 miles of Appalachian ridgelines – unless the project can obtain an incidental take permit, or ITP, under the Endangered Species Act. Judge Titus concluded, after a four-day trial, that operation of the turbines would cause a “take” of the endangered Indiana Bat.… More

Another Front in the Climate Change Battle: NEPA Reviews

Waxman-Markey. Boxer-Kerry. Public nuisance litigation. EPA regulation under existing authority. What’s next in the arsenal of weapons against climate change? How about including climate change impacts in reviews under NEPA?

In February 2008, the International Center for Technology Assessment, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club petitioned the CEQ to “clarify” its regulations to require the assessment of potential climate change impacts in environmental reviews performed under NEPA. CEQ has not yet formally responded to the petition,… More

Concerns About NEPA and the Stimulus: CEQ Is Here to Help

As we noted previously, in the face of efforts to include language in the stimulus bill exempting stimulus projects from the requirements of NEPA, Senator Boxer proposed what you can describe either as a compromise or a fig leaf. Section 1609 of the bill provides that NEPA reviews will be expedited and resources will be devoted to facilitate such expedited reviews. According to the Environmental Reporter today, CEQ is going to be providing guidance to federal agencies on how to conduct such expedited reviews.… More

Today’s Forecast: More Climate-related Litigation on the Horizon

We posted recently about the revival of EPA’s NSR enforcement program. Now, yet another shoe has dropped. The Center for Biological Diversity has announced the creation of the Climate Law Institute, the purpose of which is to use citizen law suits under existing laws to advance regulations intended to address climate change. The press release states that the Institute has $17 million in funding with which to pursue its mission.… More

Massachusetts Takes Steps to Ensure That Stimulus Spending is Not Bogged Down in Environmental Reviews

It looks as though Massachusetts is going to at least try to avoid having lengthy environmental reviews create obstacles to spending its share of the federal stimulus package. A draft report prepared by the Commonwealth’s Permitting Task Force makes several recommendations which, if implemented, would indeed help to ensure that the money can get out the door and the shovels in the ground. Highlights include:

  • Allowing projects to proceed,…
  • More

Continuing Developments on Environmental Reviews of Stimulus Projects

I have posted a few times recently about the tension between environmental regulation and economic development, particularly in the context of current efforts at devising a stimulus package in Congress. Yesterday, Congress rejected an amendment to the stimulus bill, offered by Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), which would have required NEPA reviews to be completed within 270 days for projects funded through the stimulus. Projects not reviewed during this time period would have been constructively approved,… More

Is There a Conflict Between Environmental Protection and Economic Growth? Could Be.

It’s now de rigueur to say that there is no conflict between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. President-elect Obama said so himself as recently as December 15, when he introduced members of his environmental and energy team. Certainly, in a perfect world, where information is free and everyone agrees on the economic value to be placed on protecting environmental interests, that would be true as a matter of definition.… More