Northern Alaska Environmental Center v. Kempthorne
457 F.3d 969 (9th Cir. 2006)
The Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) wanted to open up a large area (4.6 million acres!) of Federal land
in Alaska to oil drilling. They were required by National Environmental
Policy Act (NEPA) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement
(EIS), which they did.
The EIS was not site
specific because at the time, BLM had no idea where people were going to
Environmental groups (led by
NAEC) sued for an injunction.
NAEC argued that the EIS was
inadequate because it lacked specific site analysis for particular
BLM argued that they would
only know where drilling would occur after people bid on leases. They
couldn't auction the leases until the EIS was done, so NAEC was putting
them in a Catch-22.
The Trial Court found for BLM.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court agreed
that an EIS was required. However, the Court agreed with BLM's argument
that it would be impossible to lease the land under the conditions NAEC
The Court agreed that there
was considerable uncertainty in the EIS, but found that it had been
prepared in good faith with the best information available at the time.
The Appellate Court noted
that NEPA applies at all stages
of the process and so any later plans for actual exploration are subject
to review, once they are finalized.
NAEC unsuccessfully argued
that it was important to perform the EIS early in the process because if
you waited until leasing and exploration had occurred, it would be too
late to halt the process.
Also, how many EISs are
going to be required? Each one takes time and money.
What is the right time to
write an EIS?
Planning Stage, Leasing
Stage, Exploration by Lessee Stage, Drilling/Mining Stage.
As this case illustrates,
you want to write the EIS early enough to be able to halt the process if
need be, but if you write it too early, there aren't enough specifics
available to write an effective EIS. How do you strike a balance?