Case 88

Sierra Club v. Watt, No. CV-83 5878 AWT (C.D. Cal. Nov. 18, 1983), aff'd sub nom. Sierra Club v. Clark, 774 F.2d 1406 (9th Cir. 1985).

Plaintiffs challenged both the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) California Desert Conservation Management Plan, which designated a motorcycle race route, and BLM's issuance of a permit to conduct the race. Although BLM had prepared an environmental impact statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it failed to consult with the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) prior to issuing the permit. Nevertheless, after issuing the permit, BLM consulted with the SHPO and instituted measures designed to mitigate the adverse impacts of the race on the desert. The SHPO concurred in the issuance of the permit.

The district court initially addressed several procedural questions. First, the court concluded that even though plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies, their failure to do so would not defeat their action. Exhaustion was not required by statute, and the court found that pursuit of the administrative remedies would be futile and application of the exhaustion rule would bar consideration of a decision with wide-ranging effects on the public interest. Slip op. at 5-6.

Second, the court upheld plaintiffs' standing to sue. Id. at 7. Third, finding that the use of laches should be restricted in environmental suits, the court rejected defendants' argument that plaintiffs had delayed too long by waiting three and a half weeks after the permit was issued to file the action. The delay was not unreasonable, and defendants had shown no prejudice. Id. at 7-8.

In considering the likelihood of plaintiffs' success on the merits for purposes of the motion for preliminary injunction, the district court rejected plaintiffs' argument that the EIS was inadequate under NEPA because it did not consider site-specific mitigation measures for cultural resources. The court found, among other things, that BLM adequately considered the need to minimize adverse impacts on desert resources by discussing mitigation measures briefly in the EIS and by implementing substantial site-specific mitigation measures not incorporated in the EIS. Id. at 18.

The district court also rejected plaintiffs' claims that BLM had violated the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the regulations of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation implementing Section 106 of NHPA by failing to consult with the SHPO until after preparing the EIS and issuing the permit for the race. The court declined to decide whether the word "should" in the Council's regulations required BLM to consult with the SHPO before taking these actions because the SHPO had concurred in the issuance of the permit after it had been issued and BLM had taken mitigation measures after consulting with the SHPO. The court found that these actions "achieved the results contemplated by NHPA" and held that the issuance of the race permit was in "substantial compliance" with NHPA. Id. at 20.

Because the court believed that plaintiffs had not demonstrated a fair chance of success on the merits, the court denied plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction. Id. at 21, 23.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that BLM acted in accordance with all applicable statutes, including NHPA. The court acknowledged that BLM failed to consult with the SHPO prior to the issuance of the permit for the race. 774 F.2d at 1410. Nevertheless, the court affirmed the district court's conclusion that BLM had satisfied the requirements of Section 106 because of the "fact of actual concurrence by the SHPO in the issuance of the permit, together with the imposition of mitigation measures the SHPO requested." Id. In concluding that BLM's issuance of the permits was appropriate, the court referenced BLM's "extensive implementation of mitigation measures" and its "response to the public concern" because such actions minimized the adverse impacts of the race. Id. at 1410-11. It also emphasized that both Congress and an executive order mandated provision of trails for off-road vehicles. Additionally, the court found that the impact of the trail would not impair the suitability of the area for preservation as wilderness, as required by Section 603(c) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. Finally, the court of appeals, like the district court, found that the EIS appropriately provided the public with environmental information, explored alternatives, and proposed mitigative measures which were implemented to reduce adverse effects.

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