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National Wildlife Federation v. Secretary of the Department of Transportation

ELR Citation: 49 ELR 20056
Nos. 17-10031, (E.D. Mich., 03/29/2019) (Goldsmith, J.)

A district court granted in part and denied in part an environmental group's motion for summary judgment in a challenge to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA's) approval of two spill response plans for an oil pipeline that crosses Michigan's Straits of Mackinac. The group argued that PHMSA's approval of the plans incorrectly considered the pipeline to be a single-onshore facility under the CWA, and failed to sufficiently explain the bases for the approvals. The court found that the CWA was ambiguous with respect to response plan requirements for pipelines and thus deferred to PHMSA's reasonable reading that the pipeline was a single-onshore facility; but it held that PHMSA failed to adequately explain its conclusions that the response plans met the CWA's requirements. The group also argued that because PHMSA had discretion to approve response plans under the CWA, it was required to prepare an EIS and to consult with appropriate federal agencies to ensure that listed endangered species and their habitats would not be jeopardized. The court found that PHMSA had obligations under both NEPA and the ESA because the agency's review of the plans included an exercise of environmental judgment and that it failed to meet those obligations. It therefore granted in part and denied in part the group's motion for summary judgment, and remanded the response plan approvals to PHMSA for further consideration.