11 ELR 20870 | Environmental Law Reporter | copyright © 1981 | All rights reserved

California v. Watt

Nos. CV 81-2080-MRP, -2081-MRP (C.D. Cal. August 18, 1981)

ELR Digest

After issuing a preliminary injunction, 11 ELR 20565, the court invalidates a sale of outer continental shelf (OCS) oil and gas leases because the Secretary of the Interior failed to make a required determination that the sale would be consistent with the California Coastal Management Plan (CCMP). The court's order relates to 29 of 115 tracts in the Santa Maria Basin included in the Department of the Interior's OCS Lease Sale No. 53. Under § 307(c)(1) of the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), federal actions "directly affecting" the coastal zone must be conducted in a manner that is, to the maximum extent practicable, consistent with approved state management programs. The court rejects the narrow interpretation of "directly affecting" urged by the Secretary. Reviewing the CZMA's purpose and legislative history, as well as past interpretations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and by the Department of Justice, the court concludes that a final notice of lease sale of OCS lands would invariably "directly affect" the coastal zone in all but the most unusual case. The court accords no deference to a strict new interpretation of "directly affecting" first proposed by NOAA in May 1981, finding it inconsistent with the CZMA's policy of furthering long-range planning for coastal resources. The court rejects other arguments advanced against the sale. First, it upholds a decision by the Secretary not to supplement the environmental impact statement (EIS) to take account of a revised estimate of recoverable petroleum reserves. It was reasonable for the Secretary simply to acknowledge the revised estimate in an addendum to the EIS and analyze certain of its implications in a separate document. The court also upholds the Secretary's rejection of a recommendation by California's governor that the 29 disppsputed tracts plus three others be excluded from the lease sale. Section 19 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act requires the Secretary to accept the governor's recommendations concerning the size, time, or location of a proposed lease sale if he determines that they provide for a reasonable balance between the national interest and the well-being of the citizens of the state. Since the Secretary did undertake a limited balancing of interests and maintained at least minimal communication with the governor, his rejection of the governor's recommendation passes, if barely, the arbitrary and capricious test. In addition, the court upholds the Secretary's findings under § 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that the lease sales would not jeopardize any endangered or threatened species. As required, the Secretary consulted with agencies having jurisdiction over marine animals concerning the likely effects of the proposed lease sales on protected species. The court concludes that the biological opinions of these agencies, while limited to the effects of exploration activities, were adequate. Further biological consultation will be necessary prior to approval of development or production plans. Finally, the court holds that any threat to marine mammals or endangered species from leasing activities would not constitute a "taking" under either § 9 of the ESA or the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). "Taking" envisions a more immediate injury, and the record lacks any clear showing of such harm or harassment as is required by the statutes. In closing, the court observes that while a focus on harm from a discrete stage of the OCS leasing process is proper under the ESA and MMPA, the CZMA, in contrast, focuses on comprehensive planning and requires consideration of long-term effects as well. The court enjoins leasing of the 29 disputed tracts until the defendants comply with the CZMA by preparing a consistency determination and by conducting all activities on the tracts in a manner consistent with the CCMP.

In a separate order, the court dismisses five environmental groups' opposition under the CZMA to the proposed offshore leasing, but recognizes a cause of action on the part of local government plaintiffs. Following recent Supreme Court precedent, the court holds that a primary consideration in the implied-right-of-action analysis is whether the CZMA was enacted for the "especial benefit" of the class to which plaintiffs belong. It finds that neither the structure nor the legislative history of the CZMA demonstrates an "unmistakable focus" on environmental plaintiffs. Rather, the CZMA focuses upon state and local governments, as well as upon federal agencies conducting activities in the coastal zone.

The full text of the opinion and order are available from ELR (Opinion: 65 pp. $8.75, ELR Order No. C-1255a; Order: 5 pp. $1.25, ELR Order No. C-1255b).

Counsel are listed at 11 ELR 20565.

Pfaelzer, J.


11 ELR 20870 | Environmental Law Reporter | copyright © 1981 | All rights reserved