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Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Bureau of Land Management

ELR Citation: 49 ELR 20112
Nos. 2:17-cv-08587-GW-(ASx) and 2:18-cv-06775-GW-(ASx), (C.D. Cal., 06/20/2019) (Wu, J.)

A district court granted environmental groups' motions for summary judgment in a challenge to BLM's 2017 determination that it did not need to authorize a proposed water pipeline project in southern California because the project fell within the scope of a right-of-way granted to a railroad company under the 1875 General Railroad Right-of-Way Act. The groups challenged BLM's finding that the project would not interfere with the continued use of the easement for railroad purposes and thus did not require authorization. The court found the range of permissible activities within an 1875 Act right-of-way were limited to those that furthered railroad purposes, and thus concluded that BLM's determination that all activities were permissible so long as they did not interfere with the continued use of the right-of-way as a railroad was contrary to the Act. The groups also argued the Agency's alternative basis for determining that the project did not need BLM approval—that the project would further a railroad purpose—was arbitrary and capricious because the Agency did not sufficiently explain why it reversed its 2015 determination that the project did not further a railroad purpose and thus required BLM authorization. The court held that BLM had a duty to provide a reasoned explanation for disregarding certain facts from the 2015 determination in reaching its 2017 determination, and that its failure to provide an explanation was arbitrary and capricious. It therefore granted the groups' motions and remanded to BLM.