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Louisiana State v. United States Army Corps of Engineers

ELR Citation: 46 ELR 20143
Nos. 15-30962, (5th Cir., 08/23/2016)

The Fifth Circuit reversed a lower court decision that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must bear all the costs of deauthorizing the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MR-GO), instead holding that the Corps' cost-sharing formula with the state of Louisiana was reasonable. The Corps has completed building the rock wall to close the MR-GO to navigation, but the ecosystem restoration portion of the project has not moved forward. A lower court held that the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (WRDA), in conjunction with a supplemental appropriations bill passed by Congress in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, unambiguously requires the Corps to complete the MR-GO closure and ecosystem restoration project at full federal expense. But the relevant statutes are ambiguous with respect to who will bear the costs of the MR-GO closure. No provision in the appropriations bill establishes how the closure of the MR-GO should be financed; rather, this detail was left to be resolved by the Corps. Here, the Corps’ interpretation of the WRDA and the appropriations bill is well within the bounds of permissible interpretation. In addition, the court dismissed Louisiana's challenge to the proposed agency action for cost allocation concerning the MR-GO ecosystem restoration. The Corps’ decisionmaking regarding financing of the ecosystem restoration project is not yet final. The decision, therefore, is not subject to judicial review.