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Davis, City of v. Coleman

Citation: 5 ELR 20633
No. No. 74-1942, 521 F.2d 661/8 ERC 1259/(9th Cir., 07/30/1975) Reinstating injunction

The court of appeals reinstates a preliminary injunction, previously granted, 3 ELR 20891, but then dissolved by the district court, barring further work on a California freeway interchange project pending execution of an environmental impact statement/environmental impact report (EIS/EIR) and compliance with the hearing requirements of the Federal-Aid Highway Act. The district wrongly thought that plaintiff must establish environmental harm in order to show injury-in-fact for standing purposes. Since failure to file an EIS/EIR creates a risk that serious but nonobvious environmental impacts of a project will be overlooked, injury-in-fact is sufficiently alleged in such cases by any plaintiff which, like the city here, has "a sufficient geographical nexus to the site of the challenged project that he may be expected to suffer whatever environmental consequences the project may have." Moreover, failure to file an EIS/EIR deprived the city of the opportunity to participate in the project review process by commenting on the statements. Finally, the municipality's interests in enforcing a general plan and maintaining a municipal water supply brings it arguably within the zone of interests protected by NEPA and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Although the district court did not reach the issue of need for an EIS/EIR, the court of appeals will decide it in the interests of expedition, since the record is adequate. Because the proposed interchange is likely to trigger rapid industrial development of agricultural land bordering the city, its potential environmental impacts have raised serious questions; for example, the city's water supply, already endangered by a falling water table, could be fouled as a result of heavy industrial use. In light of these questions, which are significant although related solely to secondary impacts involving private actions, the defendants acted unreasonably in concluding that the project would have no substantial environmental impact. The court rejects defendants' assertion that plaintiff was barred by laches from bringing this suit; laches is not favored in NEPA/CEQA cases, for the agency has the major obligation for complying with these statutes. The design study report prepared in connection with hearings on the project under §128 of the Highway Act is manifestly deficient under that act and its implementing regulations. Consequently, the court intimates but does not decide that failure to file an EIS is itself a violation of §128. Further work on the interchange is enjoined pending preparation of an adequate EIS/EIR and completion of an adequate highway act hearing, which must include consideration of the EIS/EIR.

For counsel, see 3 ELR 20890.