November 12, 2008
Court Vacates Preliminary Injunction in Winter v. NRDC
The Supreme Court today vacated a district court's preliminary injunction, which prohibited the Navy from using MFA sonar during its training exercises. The Court's ruling is here; my previous post on the case is here.
NRDC sued the Navy, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for the Navy's alleged violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. Particularly, the NRDC claimed that the Navy should have completed an environmental impact statement before conducting the latest round of exercises. The district court granted a preliminary injunction.
The Navy argued to the Council on Environmental Quality--an executive branch agency--that the injunction represented an "emergency circumstance," and that the CEQ could therefore authorize "alternative arrangements" under its regulations to allow the Navy to continue training. The CEQ agreed, and the Navy argued on appeal that the CEQ ruling nullified the injunction.
The Supreme Court had little to say about the CEQ process in its ruling; instead, it vacated based on the district court's failure to seriously consider the public interest in granting the preliminary injunction. But Justices Ginsburg and Souter in dissent wrote this:
CEQ's hasty decision on a one-sided record is no substitute for the District Court's considered judgment based on a two-sided record. More fundamentally, even an exemplary CEQ review could not have effected the short circuit the Navy sought. CEQ lacks authority to absolve an agency of its statutory duty to prepare an EIS. . . . If the Navy sought to avoid its NEPA obligations, its remedy lay in teh Legislative Branch. The Navy's alternative course--rapid, self-serving resort to an office in the White House--is surely not what Congress had in mind when it instructed agencies to comply with NEPA "to the fullest extent possible."
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