Northern Plains Resource v. Tongue River RR

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 12-29-2011
  • Case #: 97-70037; 97-70099; 97-70217; 07-74348
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge M.D. Smith for the Court; Circuit Judges Goodwin and Pregerson
  • Full Text Opinion

By not providing adequate baseline data regarding wildlife and sensitive plants to assess the impacts of a proposed railroad in application documents, violates the National Environmental Policy Act's procedural requirement on federal agencies to "take a 'hard look' at the potential environmental consequences of the proposed action."

The Tongue River Railroad Company, Inc. ("TRRC") wanted to construct a railroad line in the Tongue River Valley. TRRC filed an application with the Interstate Commerce Commission ("ICC") to build the line. The ICC approved the TRRC applications II and III in October 1996 and 2007 respectively, whereas Petitioners sought reconsideration, but were denied by the Surface Transportation Board ("Board"). On appeal, the Ninth Circuit concluded the Board failed to take the requisite "hard look" at certain material environmental impacts inherent in TRRC II and III in the manner required by the National Environmental Policy Act prior to approving those applications. However, the Ninth Circuit held that the Board did not err in its public convenience and necessity analysis, except with respect to its reliance on the viability of TRRC II during the approval of TRRC III. The Ninth Circuit found the Board's decision not to review new evidence of operational and safety concerns for the Four Mile Creek Alternative in TRRC III to be arbitrary and capricious, therefore reverse and remanding on said ground, affirming the Board on Petitioners' other railroad claims. AFFIRM in part and REVERSE and REMAND in part.

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