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Center for Sustainable Econ. v. Jewell

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

March 6, 2015


Argued September 11, 2014.

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On Petition for Review of Final Decision of the United States Department of Interior.

Michael A. Livermore argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Steven Sugarman.

David C. Shilton, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General, and John E. Arbab, Attorney.

Steven J. Rosenbaum, Bradley K. Ervin, Harry M. Ng, and Stacy R. Linden were on the brief for intervenors American Petroleum Institute, et al. in support of respondents.

Before: GARLAND, Chief Judge, PILLARD, Circuit Judge, and SENTELLE, Senior Circuit Judge. OPINION filed by Circuit Judge PILLARD. Dissenting opinion filed by Circuit Judge SENTELLE.


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Pillard, Circuit Judge :

The Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) of the United States is a vast underwater expanse nearly equal in size to the Australian continent. Beginning a few miles from the U.S. coast, where states' jurisdiction ends, the OCS extends roughly two hundred miles into the ocean to the seaward limit of the international-law jurisdiction of the United States.[1] Billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas lie beneath the OCS.[2] There is enough oil beneath the OCS to replace America's oil imports for 30 years and enough natural gas to supply all of America's households for more than 80 years.[3] But drilling on the OCS can have potentially devastating effects on the environment. Concerns about the OCS's ecological vulnerability and potential harm to coastal tourism led to moratoriums on OCS drilling in the Atlantic, the Pacific, parts of the Gulf of Mexico, and parts of Alaska for more than a quarter of a century, from 1982 until the moratoriums were partially lifted in 2009.[4] In 2010, the disaster on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on the OCS renewed debate about the safety of offshore drilling. BP was drilling in mile-deep water 52 miles from shore when the subsea well ruptured and caused an oil spill spreading over thousands of square miles, damaging local economies, sensitive coastlines, and valuable wildlife throughout the region.[5] Multinational energy companies remain interested in offshore drilling on the OCS, and the Department of the Interior determined that additional leases for such drilling may be appropriate.

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) created a framework to facilitate the orderly and environmentally responsible exploration and extraction of oil and gas deposits on the OCS. It charges the Secretary of the Interior with preparing a program every five years containing a schedule of proposed leases for OCS resource exploration and development.[6] In light of the potential benefits and costs of OCS development, the Secretary's program

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must balance competing economic, social, and environmental values in determining when and where to make leases available. Those obligations are set forth in Section 18 of OCSLA, 43 U.S.C. § 1344.

The Center for Sustainable Economy (CSE), an Oregon based nonprofit organization working to " speed the transition to a sustainable economy," Pet. Br. 23, challenges the Department of the Interior's latest leasing program on the ground that the 2012-2017 leasing schedule fails to comply with the provisions of Section 18(a), which governs how Interior is to balance competing economic, social, and environmental values, id. § 1344(a)(1), (3), quantify and assess environmental and ecological impact, id. § 1344(a)(2)(A), (H), and ensure an equitable distribution of benefits and costs between OCS regions and stakeholders, id. § 1344(a)(2)(B)-(G). CSE argues that Interior's economic analysis violates OCSLA's express terms by failing properly to consider environmental and market effects that the agency is required to address at the planning stage, and arbitrarily and irrationally fails to quantify many of the Program's costs and benefits. CSE also argues that, in preparing its Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (" Final EIS" ), Interior violated the National Environmental Policy Act's (NEPA) procedural requirements by using a biased analytic methodology and providing inadequate opportunities for public comment at the Draft EIS stage.

Interior and Intervenor American Petroleum Institute (API) defend the Program as compliant with Section 18(a). They contend that, in opening up new areas of the OCS for leasing, the Program rationally and appropriately balances the environmental, social, and economic values at stake. Interior and API also challenge CSE's standing to petition this Court for relief, and API further argues that CSE's NEPA claims are unripe. Both argue that CSE failed to preserve at least some of its arguments by failing to raise them in its comments to the agency.

We deny CSE's petition and conclude that: (1) CSE has associational standing to petition for review, (2) CSE's NEPA claims are unripe, (3) two of CSE's Program challenges are forfeited, and (4) CSE's remaining challenges to Interior's adoption of the 2012-2017 leasing schedule fail on their merits.


Congress enacted OCSLA in 1953 to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to administer exploration and development of the OCS's mineral resources. Pub. L. No. 83-212, 67 Stat. 462 (1953) (codified as amended at 43 U.S.C. § 1331 et seq.). The 1953 Act empowered the Secretary to grant leases, but it did not establish statutory standards or guidelines to govern the Secretary's decisions. California v. Watt (" Watt I " ), 668 F.2d 1290, 1295, 215 U.S.App.D.C. 258 (D.C. Cir. 1981). A quarter of a century later, Congress amended OCSLA in response to growing concerns about the United States' dependence on foreign energy sources and intensifying awareness of the need for environmental safeguards. The 1978 Amendment sought to promote " expedited exploration and development of the Outer Continental Shelf in order to achieve national economic and energy policy goals, assure national security, reduce dependence on foreign sources, and maintain a favorable balance of payments in world trade," while also ensuring " protection of the human, marine, and coastal environments." Pub. L. No. 95-372, 92 Stat. 629 (1978) codified at 43 U.S.C. § 1802(1)-(2)).[7]

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The Amendment transformed OCSLA from " essentially a carte blanche delegation of authority to the Secretary of Interior," Watt I, 668 F.2d at 1295 (quoting H.R. Rep. No. 95-590, at 54 (1977) (Comm. Rep.)), into a statute with a " structure for every conceivable step to be taken" on the path to development of an OCS leasing site. Id. at 1297.

OCSLA now establishes both a procedural framework and a set of substantive requirements to govern how Interior opens up areas of the OCS for resource development. See 43 U.S.C. § § 1334, 1337; Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Dep't of Interior (" CBD " ), 563 F.3d 466, 472, 385 U.S.App.D.C. 257 (D.C. Cir. 2009). Procedurally, Interior must undertake a four-stage process before allowing development of an offshore well, with each stage more specific than the last and more attentive to the potential benefits and costs of a particular drilling project. See CBD, 563 F.3d at 473; Watt I, 668 F.2d at 1297. In the first stage--the most general--Interior prepares a fiveyear program of proposed lease sales across the whole OCS. 43 U.S.C. § 1344. In the second stage, Interior issues leases in accordance with the program. Id. § 1337(a). In the third stage, Interior reviews lessees' exploration plans. Id. § 1340. In the fourth stage, Interior and affected state and local governments review lessees' development plans. Id. § 1351.

Rigorous substantive requirements accompany each procedural stage. Congress calls on Interior to strike an appropriate balance at each stage between local and national environmental, economic, and social needs. In reviewing a lessee's exploration plans at the third stage, for example, Interior must ensure that, among other things, such plans " will not be unduly harmful to aquatic life in the area, result in pollution, create hazardous or unsafe conditions, unreasonably interfere with other uses of the area, or disturb any site, structure, or object of historical or archeological significance." Id. § 1340(g)(3). Similarly, in analyzing a lessee's development plans at the fourth stage, Interior must ensure, among other things, that such development will not " probably cause serious harm or damage . . . to the marine, coastal or human environments." Id. § 1351(h)(1)(D)(i).

CSE challenges the first stage of the 2012-2017 Leasing Program: Interior's preparation of a five-year schedule of proposed leases and related planning steps under Section 18 of OCSLA. See id. § 1344. A program is required to " indicat[e], as precisely as possible, the size, timing, and location of leasing activity . . . for the five-year period following its approval," id. § 1344(a), and is to be prepared in a manner consistent with four principles set out in numbered paragraphs in Section 18(a). Briefly stated, those four principles are that Interior must: (1) account for all relevant " economic, social, and environmental values," id. § 1344(a)(1); (2) use " existing" and " predictive" information to account for the interests of all relevant regions and stakeholders, id. § 1344(a)(2); (3) strike a " proper balance" between resource potential and environmental impact, id. § 1344(a)(3), and (4) assure that the Federal Government receives " fair market value for the lands leased and the rights conveyed," id. § 1344(a)(4).[8]

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This first stage, involving approval of a leasing program, carries enormous " practical and legal significance." Watt I, 668 F.2d at 1299. The key national decisions as to the size, timing, and location of OCS leasing--as well as the basic economic analyses and justifications for such decisions--are made at this first stage. See 43 U.S.C. § 1344(d)(3). The Program also creates important reliance interests. Federal, state, and local governments, and the companies that participate in national and international energy markets, form long-term plans on the basis of the leasing program. The leasing schedule is therefore " extremely important to the expeditious but orderly exploitation of OCS resources." Watt I, 668 F.2d at 1299.

At issue here is the 2012-2017 Program, the eighth five-year program Interior has prepared pursuant to the 1978 Amendment. That Program includes 15 potential lease sales in six OCS planning areas: the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico, the portion of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico not currently under congressional moratorium, and the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Cook Inlet planning areas off the coast of Alaska. Twelve of the sales are planned for the Gulf of Mexico, and one sale each is planned for the three Alaskan areas.

On October 26, 2012, CSE timely petitioned for review of Interior's approval of the 2012-2017 Program. This Court has exclusive jurisdiction. See 43 U.S.C. § 1349(c)(1). Our analysis of the most recent Program is informed and guided by our four prior decisions regarding earlier leasing-program challenges. See CBD, 563 F.3d 466 (challenging the 2007-2012 Program); Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc. v. Hodel (" Hodel " ), 865 F.2d 288, 275 U.S.App.D.C. 69 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (challenging the 1987-1992 Program); California v. Watt (" Watt II " ), 712 F.2d 584,

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229 U.S.App.D.C. 270 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (challenging the 1982-1987 Program); Watt I, 668 F.2d 1290, 215 U.S.App.D.C. 258 (challenging the 1980-1985 Program).


We must address standing and ripeness issues at the threshold. See, e.g., CBD, 563 F.3d at 475. Interior and API argue that CSE lacks standing to petition this Court, and API contends that CSE's NEPA claims are unripe. For the reasons that follow, we hold that CSE has associational standing (also referred to as representational standing) to institute this petition, but that its NEPA claims are unripe.


CSE has associational standing. An association has standing to bring suit on behalf of its members when: (1) " its members would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right; " (2) " the interests it seeks to protect are germane to the organization's purpose; " and (3) " neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit." Hunt v. Wash. State Apple Adver. Comm'n, 432 U.S. 333, 343, 97 S.Ct. 2434, 53 L.Ed.2d 383 (1977).

At the threshold, CSE submitted with its opening brief a declaration of its President averring that CSE is (and has been since its founding) a membership organization, and declarations of two members describing their concrete interests and confirming that CSE speaks for them in this litigation. See Talberth 3d Decl. ¶ ¶ 3-6; Wilson 2d Decl.; Shavelson 2d Decl. Once we determine that CSE is an organization eligible to assert standing on behalf of its members, we must inquire whether CSE meets all three of the Hunt requirements for associational standing.

First, we consider the standing of the members who came forward. An individual has Article III standing to sue when she can show: (1) she has suffered an " injury in fact" that is concrete and particularized, and actual or imminent rather than conjectural or hypothetical; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action; and (3) it is likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992).

Two of CSE's members, Diane Wilson and Bob Shavelson have standing to sue in their own right. Wilson is a commercial shrimper in the Gulf of Mexico who also makes significant recreational use of Gulf waters and coastlines. Wilson 2d Decl. ¶ ¶ 3-8, 19. Shavelson, an employee at an environmental nonprofit organization in south-central Alaska, makes significant recreational use of Cook Inlet and other Alaskan waters. Shavelson 2d Decl. ¶ ¶ 3-5. Their declarations state that their economic and aesthetic interests would be harmed by additional leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the Alaskan coast. Wilson 2d Decl. ¶ ¶ 15-17, 22-23; Shavelson 2d Decl. ¶ ¶ 4-5, 7-11. Those harms are not conjectural or hypothetical: both individuals plan to continue using those specific marine and coastal ecosystems for commercial and recreational purposes during the years covered by the Program. Wilson 2d Decl. ¶ ¶ 3-4, 8, 16, 22, 24; Shavelson 2d Decl. ¶ ¶ 5, 9, 11. Wilson and Shavelson each also meet the requirements of causation and redressability. A leasing program that used incomplete economic analyses that failed rationally to account for leasing's impact on the environment would harm their concrete economic and aesthetic interests, and their alleged harm would be redressed were we to invalidate the Program. See CBD, 563 F.3d at 479. We are satisfied that CSE has at least two

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members with standing to sue in their own right.

Second, the interests CSE seeks to protect are germane to its purpose. The germaneness requirement mandates " pertinence between litigation subject and organizational purpose." Humane Soc. of the United States v. Hodel, 840 F.2d 45, 58, 268 U.S.App.D.C. 165 (D.C. Cir. 1988); see also id. at 56-57. Germaneness is required for " the modest yet important" purpose of " preventing litigious organizations from forcing the federal courts to resolve numerous issues as to which the organizations themselves enjoy little expertise and about which few of their members demonstrably care." Id. at 57.

CSE readily meets the germaneness requirement. CSE's bylaws state that a purpose of the organization is " [t]o work through administrative and legal processes to promote public policies, plans, and programs that are grounded on ecologically sound and economically sustainable principles." CSE Bylaws Art. I, § 1. CSE advocates in favor of natural resource preservation by, among other things, urging decision makers to " incorporat[e] non-market goods and services in benefit-cost analyses performed for economic policy making and government decisions" and to adopt alternative metrics, such as the " Genuine Progress Indicator," that better account for environmental externalities than do traditional measures of GNP. See Talberth 3d Decl. ¶ 6.

CSE's specific goal in this litigation--to ensure that new offshore leasing is authorized only if necessary, economically justified, and environmentally safe--is unquestionably pertinent to CSE's core organizational mission of " speed[ing] the transition to a sustainable economy" and " to a renewable energy platform." Id. And achieving that goal would advance CSE members Wilson and Shavelson's concrete interests in the preservation of marine and coastal wildlife and ecosystems. This is not a case in which an organization seeks to litigate an issue about which it has little expertise and does not much care. CSE's specific expertise is in evaluating the environmental costs and benefits of pursuing various energy alternatives, with the objective of making sure that agencies' decisions accurately and rationally assess those alternatives' effects on natural resources. Id. ¶ ¶ 3, 6.[9]

Third, neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of CSE's members in the lawsuit. Member participation is not required where a " suit raises a pure question of law" and neither the claims pursued nor the relief sought require the consideration of the individual circumstances of any aggrieved member of the organization. See Int'l Union, United Auto., Aerospace & Agric. Implement Workers of Am. v. Brock, 477 U.S. 274, 287-88, 106 S.Ct. 2523, 91 L.Ed.2d 228 (1986); see also Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 515, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975). CSE's petition turns entirely on ...

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