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Massachusetts v. Watt

ELR Citation: 13 ELR 20893
Nos. Nos. 83-1258, -1265, 716 F.2d 946/19 ERC 1745/(1st Cir., 09/16/1983) Aff'd

The First Circuit affirms the district court's order, 13 ELR 20445, preliminarily enjoining the Secretary of the Interior from conducting oil and gas lease sales at Georges Bank, off the coast of Massachusetts. The court rules that the Secretary's decision not to supplement the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the sale was likely to be found unreasonable. Although the decisionmaking documents, including an addendum to the EIS, indicate that the Interior Department now believes there is only 1/31 as much oil to be found off Georges Bank as indicated in the final EIS, none of the documents indicate the magnitude of the likely environmental effects of the change in the oil recovery estimate. The decision not to supplement is unreasonable since (1) the final EIS focuses on the original mean estimate, (2) the likely change in environmental harm is less than proportional, and (3) the supporting documents do not satisfy National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) EIS requirements, since they were vague and were not made public. In addition, that the Secretary's decision probably would not have been changed is irrelevant to the need for a supplement.

The court also rules that the injunction will prevent irreparable harm to plaintiffs. Since NEPA requires informed decisionmaking, making a decision without a proper EIS is the harm that NEPA intends to prevent. And while all NEPA violations do not warrant an injunction, the harm to plaintiffs in allowing the lease sale to take place outweighs the harm to defendants, since there is no pressing need to develop the oil and gas and the Secretary has begun to collect the necessary information. The court finds it unnecessary to rule at this time on issues relating to compliance with the Endangered Species Act, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and the Coastal Zone Management Act, because the probable NEPA violation is sufficient to support the preliminary injunction.

Counsel are listed at 13 ELR 20445.

Joined by Coffin and Selya,* JJ.