Thursday, November 12, 2009

National Parks & Conservation Association v. BLM

Nov 10: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 05-56814, 05-56815, 05-56843, 05-56832, and 05-56908. Kaiser Eagle Mountain, Inc. (Kaiser) seeks to build a landfill on a former Kaiser mining site near Joshua Tree National Park (Joshua Tree). As part of its landfill development plan, Kaiser sought to exchange certain private lands for several parcels of land surrounding the mine site and owned by the Bureau of Land Managment (BLM). Several parties, including the National Parks Conservation Association (Conservation Association) and Donna and Laurence Charpied (the Charpieds), challenged the land exchange. Nevertheless, the BLM approved the land exchange, as did the Interior Board of Land Appeals (Appeals Board).

The Conservation Association and the Charpieds pursued their challenges in district court on several grounds, including violations of the Federal Land and Policy Management Act (Management Act) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The district court held for the Conservation Association and Charpieds on the Management Act claims and some, but not all, of the NEPA claims. Under its review, the Appeals Court in a split decision, affirmed in part and reversed in part.

In this somewhat complicated decision, involving several conclusions on separate disputed issues, the majority Appeals Court ruled in part that, "BLM necessarily considered an unreasonably narrow range of alternatives. We therefore affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment on both the 'purpose and need' and “reasonable range of alternatives” claims under NEPA."

And, "Contrary to the district court’s conclusion, we find that the EIS contains extensive analyses of potential impacts on Bighorn sheep, including migration patterns, habitat loss, and water accessibility. . . [However,] the discussion of [atmospheric] eutrophication is neither full nor fair with respect to atmospheric eutrophication. . . We therefore affirm the district court’s decision on this NEPA claim.

". . .we affirm the district court’s holding that the Charpieds lack standing under NEPA, the National Park Service Organic Act, and the California Desert Protection Act. . . [Also,] "we find that the EIS’s discussion of these issues [desert tortoises, visual, noise, and night lighting impacts, groundwater, and air quality] is sufficient to foster informed decision-making and public participation. We therefore affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment on these NEPA claims."

Perhaps, most interesting in this case is the lengthy dissenting opinion of Justice Trott. In summary he says, "What sane person would want to attempt to acquire property for a landfill? Our well-meaning environmental laws have unintentionally made such an endeavor a fool’s errand. This case is yet another example of how daunting -- if not impossible -- such an adventure can be. Ulysses thought he encountered fearsome obstacles as he headed home to Ithaca on the Argo, but nothing that compares to the 'due process' of unchecked environmental law. Not the Cyclops, not the Sirens, and not even Scylla and Charybdis can measure up to the obstacles Kaiser has faced in this endeavor. The record here exceeds 50,000 pages. At the beginning, Kaiser had a partner, Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI), but BFI -- a company experienced in the field of solid waste disposal -- dropped out after investing $45 million in the project with nothing to show for it in return.

"I agree with my colleagues insofar as they dispense with the cross-appeal and the public interest and bighorn sheep issues, but I dissent with respect to the rest. The final irony is that my colleagues send the case back to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to do something BLM has already adequately done: consider the value of the land involved as a commercial landfill." In the final conclusion of his 49-page dissent, Judge Trott said, "I end with the Technical Advisory Panel’s evaluation: 'the proposed Eagle Mountain Landfill could well become one of the world’s safest landfills and a model for others to emulate.' Don’t hold your breath."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).

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