Native Village of Point Hope v. Jewell

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: 01-22-2014
  • Case #: 12-35287
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Court Judge Fletcher for the Court; Circuit Judges Fernandez and Rawlinson
  • Full Text Opinion

When preparing a Final Environmental Impact statement, although it is recognized that different levels of information will be required at each stage of the development process, one cannot base their conclusions on arbitrary or ill-founded estimates that do not represent the most plausible outcome.

Pursuant to leasing an area in the Chukchi Sea for oil and gas production, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management ("BOEM") prepared a Final Environmental Impact Statement ("FEIS") to analyze the environmental effects of the purposed leases. Based on the FEIS and a supplemental EIS ("SEIS") the district court granted summary judgment for the defendants in favor of the lease. On appeal the plaintiff’s argued that the estimate of one billion barrels was arbitrary and the FEIS and SEIS lacked critical information. The BOEM contended that much of the missing information was related to how animal populations would be affected in the event of a spill, but that since they concluded the effect on the animals would be almost identical under each alternative drilling scheme they did not determine it necessary information to make a choice between the alternatives. The Ninth Circuit agreed, citing that the level of analysis in an EIS is different at each stage of development of the project, and that circumstances are relevant in determining the level of information required. In addition, the panel agreed with the BOEM that compliance with other statutes would force their protection of the animals in question. However, the panel concluded that the barrel estimate was arbitrary. The BOEM had not fully given the rationale for the use of the lowest possible amount of oil that was economical to produce as the base for its analysis, the BOEM did not take into account fluctuation in oil prices in their conclusion that one billion barrels would be economically recoverable and the BOEM based its EIS solely on the first field of the leased area and did not provide explanation for this. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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