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Natural Resources Defense Council v. Winter

ELR Citation: 38 ELR 20043
Nos. No. 8:07-cv-00335, (C.D. Cal., 02/04/2008) presidential exemption overruled

A district court overruled the White House's exemption of an environmental ban on sonar use by the U.S. Navy. The court previously issued a preliminary injunction ordering the U.S. Navy to implement various mitigation measures to protect marine mammals from mid-frequency sonar used during training exercises off the southern California coast (38 ELR 20012 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 3, 2008)). Shortly thereafter, the president issued a memorandum exempting the Navy from compliance with the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) approved "alternative arrangements" for the Navy to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act because "emergency circumstances" prevented normal compliance. The CEQ's action was invalid because there are no emergency circumstances. Under the CEQ regulations, the phrase "emergency circumstances" refers to sudden, unanticipated events, not the unfavorable outcomes of litigation. The court also expressed concern about the constitutionality of the president's exemption of the Navy from the requirements of the CZMA, but because a finding on this issue was not necessary to the result reached, the court chose not to resolve the issue under the doctrine of constitutional avoidance.

[Prior decisions in this litigation can be found at 37 ELR 20229, and 20283, and 38 ELR 20012.]