Thursday, September 8, 2011

Center for Environmental Law & Policy v. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Aug 19: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 10-35646. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. The Appeals Court explains that Lake Roosevelt in eastern Washington state serves a variety of purposes, including irrigation, navigation, flood control, power generation, recreation, and fish management. The Appeals Court considered a challenge by environmental groups to a proposed incremental drawdown of water from the lake.
    The Appeals Court indicates that the review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is limited to determining whether the agency, in this case the United States Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), took a "hard look" and genuinely scrutinized the environmental consequences of its proposed action. The Appeals Court said, "Our own close look at the record persuades us that Reclamation was keenly aware of, and appropriately discharged, this duty when it prepared the drawdown project analysis."
    According to the Appeals Court, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants (Reclamation), holding that "the NEPA documents at issue" -- including Ecology's PEIS and SEIS as well as Reclamation's EA -- "thoroughly account for the history of development in the region and the project's cumulative impacts thereto," that the agencies' "analysis of indirect impacts complies with NEPA," that the EA's discussion of alternatives was sufficient in light of the "long collaborative process between [various] stakeholders" that led to the drawdown project, and that because Reclamation "retained the discretion [in the EA] to move forward with the project or not," its NEPA review was timely.
    The Appeals Court ruled, "Significantly. . . Reclamation has committed itself to scrutinizing the cumulative effects of the Special Study with the drawdown project before implementing any action resulting from the Special Study. Under our precedents and the circumstances presented here, this procedure does not violate NEPA. Our review reveals no other deficiencies in the substance of the EA, and although Reclamation took several steps toward implementing the drawdown project before drafting the EA, it scrupulously adhered to NEPA's timing requirements. We therefore affirm the district court."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Water, #CA9]

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