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River Runners for Wilderness v. Martin

Citation: 40 ELR 20033
No. No. 08-15112, (9th Cir., 02/01/2010)

The Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision to dismiss environmental groups’ action against the National Park Service (NPS) on the grounds that NPS did not act arbitrarily and capriciously under the APA by adopting a management plan that permitted the continued use of motorized raft and support equipment in Grand Canyon National Park. In their action, the groups argued that the plan was arbitrary and capricious because it violated NPS’s own policies and decisions. The court held that, since the policies did not prescribe substantive rules and were not promulgated in conformance with the procedures of the APA, they were not enforceable against NPS. And, considering the plan’s general consistency with the policies, as well as the leeway given federal agencies in interpreting their own policies and regulations, the policies do not render the plan arbitrary and capricious. In regards to prior decisions, the plan cannot be arbitrary and capricious solely because it differs from earlier decisions made by NPS. Part of the discretion granted to federal agencies is the freedom to change positions. The groups also argued that the plan violated the NPS Concessions Management and Improvement Act (Concessions Act) and the NPS Organic Act (Organic Act). In light of the judicial presumption favoring validity of administrative actions and the administrative discretion granted NPS under the Concessions Act, the court held that NPS did not act arbitrarily or capriciously when it found that the types and levels of motorized uses authorized by the plan were necessary and appropriate for public use and enjoyment of the park. The court further held that NPS did not act arbitrarily or capriciously since the plan did not interfere with free access by the public or impair the natural soundscape of the park within the meaning of the Organic Act.