Last week, Chief Judge Brian Morris of the Federal District Court for the District of Montana vacated an “Instruction Memorandum” issued by BLM in 2018 – and also vacated numerous oil and gas leases issued in reliance on the 2018 IM. The 2018 IM changed the way BLM interpreted land management plans issued by BLM in 2015 in order to preserve sage grouse habitat, and avoid the necessity for listing the sage grouse as endangered under the ESA.… More
Category Archives: NEPA
Ever since President Nixon visited China, significantly contributing to a thawing of the Cold War, the phrase “Nixon in China” has referred to any situation where a leader makes a policy move that would have been more expected by a leader of the opposition party. The notion is that such surprising acts of statesmanship can unlock political gridlock.
Unfortunately, Nixon in China moments are notable precisely because they are so rare. … More
Last week, Federal District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted a preliminary injunction to various NGOs, barring the Bureau of Land Management from implementing amendments BLM had made in 2019 to protection plans for the sage grouse promulgated by BLM in 2015. It makes compelling reading. In 29 pages, it pretty much summarizes everything the Trump administration has done in the environmental arena, and how courts have reacted.… More
Earlier this week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals partially reversed a district court decision, and ordered the Bureau of Land Management to vacate the NEPA approvals and permits it had issued authorizing the drilling of a number of fracked wells in the Mancos Shale, near Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. The decision is not earthshattering – pun most definitely intended! – but there are a few features of note. … More
In 2016, DOI Secretarial Order 3338 imposed a moratorium on new coal leases on federal land until BLM prepared a programmatic environmental impact statement intended to address, among other issues, the impact of coal leasing on climate change.
Times do change. In 2018, DOI Secretarial Order 3348 eliminated the moratorium and the requirement to prepare a PEIS. Litigation ensued.
Last week,… More
Last week, a federal judge once more rejected the Environmental Assessment for the expansion of the Spring Creek Mine in Montana. The case does not really break any new ground, but it does add to the growing number of cases in which courts have rejected federal action approving a variety of large facilities related to energy production in one way or another. The crux of this case was the failure of the EA to consider downstream,… More
Earlier this month, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision that is a must-read for anyone who will be needing at some point to relicense an existing hydroelectric facility. The short version is the status quo may no longer be good enough and dam operators may have to improve on existing conditions in order to succeed in relicensing. At a minimum, facility operators will have to take the cumulative impacts of dam operation into account in performing environmental assessments under NEPA required for relicensing.… More
Last week, FERC rejected arguments that the Environmental Assessment for the New Market Project should have considered upstream and downstream climate impacts. It also announced as policy that it would not in the future analyze:
the upstream production and downstream use[s] of natural gas [that] are not cumulative or indirect impacts of the proposed pipeline project, and consequently are outside the scope of our NEPA analysis.… More
BLM Loses Another One: Resource Management Plans for Coal Leasing Areas Are Sent Back to the Drawing Board
Late last month, Judge Brian Morris granted summary judgment to plaintiffs on three claims alleging that the environmental impact analysis supported BLM’s Resource Management Plans for managing coal leases in the Powder River Basis were flawed. It’s a very thoughtful decision. Judge Morris rejected three of plaintiffs’ claims and did not provide the injunctive relief that they sought. Nonetheless, it’s an important setback for BLM and further evidence that courts are going to require more of BLM in assessing climate impacts associated with energy resource development.… More
President Trump’s infrastructure plan includes a number of important proposals. My initial reaction is consistent with my view of many of the President’s initiatives – he gives regulatory reform a bad name. We do need to reform the way we implement infrastructure projects in the US, but this President is not the one to lead the effort.
Here are some of the problems I see.
Last week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded a District Court decision approving a decision by the Bureau of Land Management to approve new leases on mines that account for 20% of U.S. coal production. The decision is just the latest in a series of cases making clear that courts will not approve new – or renewed – energy production that does not appropriately address the impacts of a project on climate change.… More
Last week, a divided panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that FERC violated NEPA in failing to assess downstream greenhouse gas emissions resulting from construction of the Sabal Trail pipeline, part of the Southeast Market Pipelines Project. If the decision stands, it is going to have a very significant impact on review and development of gas pipelines.
(Full disclosure – Foley Hoag represents NextEra,… More
Earlier this week, the Judge Donald Malloy of the District Court for the District of Montana granted summary judgment to the Montana Environmental Information Center on several of its claims alleging that the Office of Surface Mining had violated NEPA in approving a modification of a mining plan to expand the Bull Mountains Mine No. 1. The decision is important for two reasons.
On June 14, 2017, the District Court for the District of Columbia issued a decision in Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Court found that the Army Corps of Engineers (“the Corps”) had not adequately considered several issues in its environmental assessment (“EA”) for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and that therefore the Corps’ decision-making was arbitrary and capricious.
On Monday, on behalf of our client, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Foley Hoag filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in the case challenging President Trump’s Executive Order 13771, the so-called “2 for 1” EO. One paragraph from the brief pretty much summarizes the argument:
It is important to note, as Executive Order 13771 acknowledges, that agencies are already required,… More
Earlier this week, the 9th Circuit found that the Bureau of Reclamation had authority under 1955 legislation to order additional releases of water to the Trinity River from the Lewiston Dam beyond the amount designated in an official release schedule, where necessary to protect downstream fish populations. The Court basically held that general language in the 1955 Act trumped later legislation that seemed to prescribe or at least authorize more limited releases.… More
In one of the first acts of his presidency, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order entitled “Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals for High Priority Infrastructure Projects”, with a stated goal of streamlining environmental permitting for infrastructure projects.
The order establishes a process by which the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality may be petitioned to designate an infrastructure project as “high priority”. … More
- 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.…
Last week, Judge Michael Fitzgerald granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs in a citizen suit alleging that BLM’s Environmental 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.
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
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. It’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”…
Earlier this month, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum on “Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment.” If 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 takes 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
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
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:
- Oil, gas,…
In an important decision last week, United States District Judge Jorge Alonso rejected the Environmental Impact Statement for the Illiana Corridor Project, which 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
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 known 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
Transportation Projects Get A Lot Of Deference in Demonstrating Compliance With Air Quality Standards
In a decision late last month, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made clear just how much deference agencies can get under the Supreme Court decisions in Chevron and Auer. The question in NRDC v. USDOT was whether, in determining whether a project to connect the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to I-405 was in conformity with the California SIP,… More
In an important decision last week, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals made clear just how high the hurdles are in the way of building highways in wildlife refuges. The decision in Defenders of Wildlife v. North Carolina DOT sent the Federal Highway Administration and the North Carolina DOT back to the drawing board in their efforts to find a solution to transportation problems on Hatteras Island. … 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
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. The “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
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
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
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
As a follow-up to my post earlier this month on BOEM’s release of the Environmental Assessment for the Massachusetts Wind Energy Area, I just thought that I would note that, according to Daily Environment Report, Maureen Bornholdt of BOEM announced earlier this week at a public hearing on the EA that BOEM expects to start auctioning leases for the WEA by the fall of 2013. … More
Another Step Forward for Offshore Wind: BOEM Releases Its EA for the Massachusetts Offshore Wind Energy Area
On 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
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
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?
Last 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
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
Yesterday, 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
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
Earlier 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
It 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.
The 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
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
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
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
Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, the big NEPA case before the Court this term. The District Court had struck down the decision by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to completely deregulate roundup ready alfalfa (RRA). That decision was not actually under appeal. The appeal concerned only the scope of the injunction issued by the District Court,… More
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
Late last week, the CEQ issued its long-awaited draft Guidance on how to factor climate change into NEPA reviews. CEQ explicitly stated the draft is not effective at this time. CEQ will take comment for 90 days and “intends to expeditiously issue this Guidance in final form” after close of the comment period. Assuming CEQ does so, it will join several states, including California, New York,… More
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
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
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
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,…
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
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