NRDC v. USDOT

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 10-30-2014
  • Case #: 12-56467
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Wardlaw for the Court; Circuit Judges Noonan and Fisher
  • Full Text Opinion

Agency regulations that fill explicitly left gaps in legislation are subject to the arbitrary and capricious standard when under review.

Natural Resources Defense Council, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, and Coalition for a Safe Environment (collectively “NRDC”) sued “the U.S. Department of Transportation [(“DOT”)] and other federal and state defendants” for “violat[ing] the federal Clean Air Act (‘CAA’) and the National Environmental Policy Act (‘NEPA’) by failing to properly evaluate and disclose the potential environmental impact of a planned expressway connecting the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to the I-405 freeway.” The planned expressway aimed to “ease traffic congestion and mitigate air pollution” due to the projected increase in cargo volume from the ports. The DOT “conducted an air quality Conformity Determination and an Environmental Impact Statement (‘EIS’)” before approving the expressway project. NRDC claims that the pollutant and air quality studies were not conducted in the proper areas, and thus are a violation of the CAA. NRDC also claims that the EIS fails to fully disclose the environmental impact of the project. The district court granted summary judgment to the DOT and its co-defendants after hearing cross-motion arguments for summary judgment. NRDC appealed, and the Ninth Circuit reviewed the DOT’s approval of the expressway project under the “arbitrary and capricious standard.” The panel first reviewed the applicable statutory provisions of the CAA, and determined that “the statutory phrase ‘any area’ is ambiguous.” The panel then turned to the Environmental Protection Agency and DOT’s agency interpretation of the statutory phrase, and found that the DOT’s studies were conducted in the appropriate areas. The panel further found that the DOT “took a ‘hard look’ at the [expressway project’s] likely consequences and probable alternatives,” therefore following NEPA requirements within the EIS. The panel therefore affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment finding that the DOT had not violated the CAA and NEPA. AFFIRMED.

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