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Peoples Gas Light & Coke Co. v. U.S. Postal Serv.

Citation: 11 ELR 20496
No. No. 81-C-146, 508 F. Supp. 808/(N.D. Ill., 02/19/1981)

Granting plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction, the court rules that the United States Postal Service (USPS) must issue a negative determination regarding environmental impacts for gas-powered boilers and therefore reevaluate its decision to solicit bids for construction of an electric boiler plant for Chicago's main post office. USPS commissioned a private engineering firm to evaluate available heating source alternatives for the post office, and the firm's study concluded that not only would gas-fired boilers be economically superior to electric boilers but they would present negligible environmental and aesthetic impacts.Nevertheless, USPS eliminated the gas alternative due to the possibility that it would require preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) which would present completion of a replacement heating method by the proposed September 1982 cutoff date. Defendants thus invited bids for the construction of an electric boiler plant. Plaintiff filed suit to enjoin defendants from accepting those bids, alleging faulty economic analysis and violation of regulations and procedures in the decisionmaking process. Initially, the court holds that it has jurisdiction under both 28 U.S.C. § 1339 and 39 U.S.C. § 409(a). Further, plaintiff has standing to maintain this action because of its prospective loss of business resulting from USPS' decision and because plaintiff's legal gas monopoly made it the assured supplier of gas if such an alternative were chosen. The court next rules that this action is not barred by laches where the one and a half month delay in filing suit was directly attributable to defendants' refusal to furnish any of their decisionmaking information and where plaintiff diligently attempted to obtain reconsideration of the USPS decision. Turning to the merits, the court determines that defendants erroneously relied upon environmental assessment and impact procedure regulations which had been superseded by new regulations prior to USPS' decision to solicit bids for the plant. Since the engineering firm had already prepared an environmental assessment which indicated that no significant environmental impacts would result from a gas-fired plant, the new regulations merely required that defendants issue a negative determination, not an EIS, and consider the cost-effectiveness of the gas-fired plant in that context. The court, therefore, orders prompt reevaluation of the project's comparative economics and issuance of a negative determination as to both gas and electricity.

The full text of the opinion is available from ELR (16 pp. $2.50, ELR Order No. C-1246).

Counsel for Plaintiff
Thomas Campbell, Michael E. Barry
Gardner, Carton & Douglas
One First National Plaza, Suite 4600, Chicago IL 60603
(312) 726-2452

Joseph M. Wells, Paul E. Goldstein, Thomas M. Patrick, Carolyn E. Ramm
Peoples Energy Corporation
222 S. Michigan St., Chicago IL 60603
(312) 431-4000

Counsel for Defendants
Mary Anne Mason, Ass't U.S. Attorney
219 S. Dearborn St., Rm. 1500 S., Chicago IL 60604
(312) 353-5300

Shadur, J.

[OPINION OMITTED BY PUBLISHER IN ORIGINAL SOURCE]