District Court Dismiss Bid To Force DOI To Decide Whether NEPA Policy Changes Are Needed


On May 4, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a “Deepwater Horizon” ruling in Center for Biological Diversity v. Zinke. The Center for Biological Diversity’s (Center) claims concerns the Department of the Interior’s (Department) ongoing review of its “categorical NEPA exclusions” with respect to offshore oil and gas operations, which are subject to the Department’s scrutiny. The District Court dismissed the Center’s lawsuit, holding that the Center was unable to prove that the Department failed to take an action that is both discrete and mandatory under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Also, the District Court’s review of the pertinent Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations indicated that the rule, as properly construed, does not require agencies to complete their review of the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4370h (NEPA), procedures even after they have embarked on such a review.

Following the April 2010 disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Department announced on October 8, 2010 that it was planning to conduct a review of these categorical exclusions. This review is still ongoing after more than six years, which spurred the Center’s lawsuit seeking to compel the Department to decide whether any revisions to its NEPA policies are needed. The Center wanted the District Court to order the Department to complete its review within 90 days, issue necessary revisions within 120 days, and publish its final decision in the Federal Register.