Wednesday, May 18, 2011

U.S. v. Coalition For Buzzards Bay

May 17: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit, Case Nos. 10-1664 & 10-1668. Appealed from the District of Massachusetts, Boston. The Appeals Court explains, "Buzzards Bay is a brilliant jewel in the diadem of Massachusetts waters. It comprises an inlet flowing landward from the Atlantic Ocean, thirty miles long and up to ten miles wide. Many people regard it as the gateway to Cape Cod. The name 'Buzzards Bay' is a fluke. Folklore has it that early settlers mistook an indigenous flight of ospreys for buzzards, and the rest is history. The bay is not only a spectacularly beautiful natural resource but also a major channel of maritime commerce in southeastern Massachusetts. The combined environmental and commercial significance of the bay has sparked a pitched battle between federal and state sovereigns over the nature of preventative measures needed to safeguard against the risk of oil spills. These appeals mark the latest round in that battle."
    The case involves the fact that the State legislature enacted the Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act (MOSPA), as a result of a 2003 oil spill in Buzzards Bay. The Appeals Court said the Federal government saw this as a threat to its power to regulate commercial shipping on Buzzards Bay and sued to abrogate certain provisions of the MOSPA. The suit asserted that the challenged provisions of the State statutory scheme were preempted by Federal laws and regulations.
    The overarching question before us involves the Coast Guard's authority to promulgate regulations that preempt state environmental law with respect to tank vessels. The Appeals Court said, ". . .we do not reach the preemption question but, rather, hold that, during the rulemaking process, the Coast Guard failed to comply with its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4347. Inasmuch as this bevue was not harmless, we reverse the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of the Coast Guard, vacate the injunction against the enforcement of state law issued. . . and remand for further proceedings. . . Accordingly, we reverse the entry of summary judgment, vacate the injunction, and return the case to the district court with instructions to remand it to the Coast Guard for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We take no view of the overarching preemption issue. . ."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [*Water, *Haz, *CA1]