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Sierra Club v. Morton

Citation: 5 ELR 20249
No. No. 74-3092, 510 F.2d 813/7 ERC 1768/(5th Cir., 03/27/1975)

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds the adequacy of the Department of the Interior's environmental impact statement for the sale of oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf along the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The plaintiffs have failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the lower court's acceptance of the EIS as complying with NEPA was clearly erroneous. Although baseline environmental studies were either inadequate or nonexistent in some specific areas, the statement recognizes and presents the lease sale's significant environmental effects in a way which afforded the decisionmaker an opportunity to weigh them properly in coming to the decision to proceed with the sale. The discussion of the environmental hazards of accidental and chronic oil spills, pipeline construction, and drilling in military warning areas is sufficiently detailed, as is the consideration of alternatives to the proposed lease sale. The EIS need not consider alternatives, such as federal rather than private exploration, which would result in similar or greater environmental harms. The cost-benefit analysis contained in the EIS meets the requirements of the Act, though it does not assign specific dollar amounts to environmental values, since it sufficiently weighs long term environmental costs against immediate benefits. The Secretary of the Interior's substantive decision to proceed with the lease sale did not clearly disregard the evidence contained in the EIS, and therefore may not be overturned as arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion. The court notes that through its lessor-lessee relationship with the private oil companies, the Interior Department retains the ability to control future oil development on the tracts in question for ecological reasons.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Bruce J. Terris
1908 Sunderland Pl., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036

Counsel for Defendants
Raymond N. Zagone
Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20530