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Sierra Club v. Bostick

ELR Citation: 45 ELR 20101
Nos. 14-6099, (10th Cir., 05/29/2015)

The Tenth Circuit held the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not violate NEPA, the CWA, or nationwide permit (NWP) 12 when it allowed an energy company to build a 485-mile oil pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas under the general permit. The pipeline, part of a larger network of pipelines to transport oil sands crude to U.S. refineries, has since been completed. Three environmental groups filed suit. They first argued that the Corps violated NEPA by issuing the NWP without considering the risk of oil spills and the cumulative environmental impacts of pipelines, but these arguments are waived because they were not raised during the public comment period. The groups also claimed that the Corps issued its verification letters without conducting a NEPA analysis. But this analysis was not necessary at the verification stage. As for the groups' CWA claims, they alleged that the Corps violated the Act by effectively authorizing activities with more-than-minimal environmental impacts and unlawfully deferring a portion of the minimal-impacts analysis to project-level personnel. Again, the court rejected their arguments. The groups have not shown that the permit authorizes activities with more-than-minimal impacts, and the Corps has permissibly interpreted the CWA to allow partial deferral of its minimal-impacts analysis. Last, the groups claimed that the Corps incorrectly verified compliance with NWP 12 without analyzing the cumulative effects or documenting the analysis of cumulative effects. But Corps officials need not include a cumulative-effects analysis in the verification letters, and the record shows that the officials conducted the necessary analysis. The court, therefore, affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the case.