NEPA: Local Injury Allows Party to Challenge Any Alleged Inadequacies of the FEIS; Discussion of Specific Global Climate Change Impacts not Required

Wildearth Guardians v. Jewell
(2013) __ F.3d ___

The United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, held that allegations of a local injury establish standing to challenge a Final Environmental Impact Report's (FEIS) discussion of global climate change. The Court also held that discussion of specific impacts to global change is not required.

A coal mining company in the Wyoming Powder River Basin sought to lease an additional 4,100 acres of federal coal reserve on two tracts adjacent to its existing mine. The BLM prepared the FEIS, approved the application, and granted leases for both tracts. A group of associations challenged the FEIS, alleging the BLM failed to take a hard look at the effect of its leasing decision on global climate change.

First, the Court addressed whether the associations had standing, based upon a local injury, to challenge the BLM's discussion of global climate change. The Court acknowledged that standing could not be established based on effects of global climate change because there was no link between global climate change and the alleged injury. However, the Court stated, the associations' local "injury follows from an inadequate FEIS whether or not the inadequacy concerns the same environmental issue that causes their injury." The associations' injuries would be redressed if the BLM's decision were to be reversed. Thus, the associations were allowed to challenge each alleged inadequacy because each was a "procedural injury" connected to the local injuries.

Second, the associations argued the FEIS was inadequate because it failed to take into account the mine's contribution to global climate change. The FEIS discussed coal mining's contribution to global climate change, including state-wide and nation-wide effects, but did not address specific global impacts. The Court found this discussion sufficient. A discussion of specific global impacts was not required because "'[g]iven the state of science, it is not possible to associate specific actions with specific global impacts such as potential climate effects.'"

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Categories: NEPA