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United States v. Massachusetts

Citation: 40 ELR 20123
No. No. 05-10112, (D. Mass., 03/31/2010)

In a case arising from a catastrophic oil spill in Buzzards Bay, a district court granted summary judgment in favor of the United States to find that aspects of the Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act (MOSPA) were preempted by the federal Ports and Waterways Safety Act of 1972 (PWSA). The U.S. Coast Guard, which has primary federal responsibility for implementing the PWSA, issued a final rule containing a provision purporting to preempt the MOSPA expressly. Massachusetts nonetheless asserted that the rulemaking violated NEPA. The court held that although the Coast Guard failed to prepare an EIS, the substance of the Coast Guard’s actual rulemaking analysis was the functional equivalent of what an EIS would have generated. The procedural error of not following NEPA formalities was therefore essentially harmless. In the final analysis, the law of preemption leaves the last word under federal law regarding the formulation of regulations to control vessel traffic, to enhance vessel safety and to decrease environmental hazards in Buzzards Bay to the Coast Guard.

[A prior decision in this litigation can be found at 37 ELR 20149.]