DC Circuit Denies Challenge to DOI’s Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Program for 2012-2017


In the case of Center for Sustainable Economy v. Sally Jewell and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, decided on March 6, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied the Center’s petition to review the Department of Interior’s (“DOI”) latest proposed leasing program. Section 18 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act requires the Department to balance competing economic, social and environmental values in determining when and where to make offshore leases in federal waters available. According to the Center, the DOI’s actions fell short of complying with the law’s mandate and, in particular, some of the economic analysis.

The DOI and the American Petroleum Institute challenged the standing of the Center to make this challenge, but the panel majority held that the Center had standing, based on the affidavits of two of its members. Judge Sentelle dissented on this point, noting that “it was only after oral argument that [the Center], at this court’s prompting, came forward to file its bylaws and other evidence to show its standing to bring this action”. The majority, however, held that this kind of post-argument submission was appropriate.

Nevertheless, the Court went onto hold that the Center’s claims are unripe. The Center raised six distinct challenges to DOI’s adoption of the 2012-2017 Program, all grounded in the same basic claims that the DOI “either violated the dictates of Section 18(a) or failed rationally to strike an appropriate balance between environmental costs and national energy needs as required under the Administrative Procedure Act, or both.” The Court found that two of the “challenges are forfeited because they were not properly raised before the agency; the other four fail on their merits.”

Ultimately, it confirmed that its “holding is a narrow one”:

In preparing a five-year program, the agency is not permitted to substitute qualitative assessments for well-established quantitative methods whenever it deems such substitutions convenient. But Interior permissibly concluded that Section 18 does not require it to employ methods of cost-benefit analysis at the ‘frontiers of scientific knowledge.’ Had the path been well worn, it might have been irrational for Interior not to follow it. Under the circumstances it faced, Interior might permissibly have blazed a new trail. It was not, however, required to do so. We therefore reject CSE’s argument that Interior acted irrationally in failing to quantify the informational value of delay. We are satisfied that Interior’s qualitative analysis of the benefits of delaying leasing was adequate, and that methods for quantifying the time value of delaying leasing on the OCS are not yet so well established that Interior was required to use them in developing the 2012-2017 Leasing Program.”

For these reasons, it denied the Center’s petition for review.