Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, No. 18-73400 (9th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
CBD filed suit challenging the legality of BOEM's and FWS's actions, arguing that the agencies failed to comply adequately with the procedural requirements imposed by the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the National Marine Fisheries Services (MMPA). Relying on a biological opinion prepared by FWS and BOEM's own environmental impact statement (EIS), BOEM's Regional Supervisor of Leasing and Plans signed a record of decision approving the Liberty project, an offshore drilling and production facility. The site of the Liberty project is governed by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA).
After determining that it had jurisdiction over CBD's claims, the Ninth Circuit vacated BOEM's approval of the Liberty project, concluding that BOEM acted arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to quantify the emissions resulting from foreign oil consumption in its EIS as required by NEPA, or, at least, explaining thoroughly why it cannot do so and summarizing the research upon which it relied. The panel also held that FWS violated the ESA by (1) relying upon uncertain, nonbinding mitigation measures in reaching its no-adverse-effect conclusion in its biological opinion, and (2) failing to estimate the Liberty project's amount of nonlethal take of polar bears. Because FWS's biological opinion is flawed and unlawful, the panel concluded that BOEM's reliance on FWS's opinion is arbitrary and capricious. The panel granted in part and denied in part the petition for review, remanding for further proceedings.