City of Mukilteo v. USDOT

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: 03-04-2016
  • Case #: 13-70385
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Tallman for the Court; Circuit Judges O’Scannlain and Berzon
  • Full Text Opinion

The National Environmental Policy Act requires the Federal Aviation Administration to analyze all reasonably foreseeable environmental impacts of its decisions before commencing operations for commercial passenger services at any major airport.

Paine Field was originally constructed in 1936 to serve as a major airport for the communities located north of Seattle. Over the years, however, it has been used for military purposes and for commercial and general aviation aircraft. The City of Mukilteo (petitioners) challenge the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) decision that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is not necessary to begin operating commercial passenger service at Paine Field. In September 2012, the FAA published a final environmental assessment (EA) finding no significant environmental impacts as a result of the FAA’s approval. Petitioners claimed that the FAA unreasonably restricted the scope of the EA, did not include connected actions that were required, and determined an outcome before conducting its review. Shortly after hearing an argument in June 2014, the parties requested a stay of the action because of lack of funding needed to construct a building that could handle passengers and their baggage. In September 2015, there was undisputed assurances that construction is now imminent, and so the case was reinstated. Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) the FAA was required to analyze all “reasonably foreseeable” environmental impacts of its decision to open Paine Field to commercial passengers. The Ninth Circuit held that the scope of the FAA’s review, and its demand-based flight operation projections for Paine Field were neither arbitrary nor capricious. Petitioners claimed that the FAA had also violated 40 C.F.R. §1508.25, which requires agencies to consider connected actions in NEPA documents. The panel held that it was not arbitrary that the FAA included no connected actions in the final EA, and recognized that the FAA was allowed to express a preference for a certain outcome. The petition for review was denied and the FAA’s decision to permit commercial passenger operations was upheld. DENIED.

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