Case Law Updates on the Environment (CLUE)
Case Law Update Details
Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis v. FTA
U.S. Court of Appeals - 8th Circuit
Southwest Light Rail
The Southwest Light Rail Transit Project would connect downtown Minneapolis to the southwestern Twin Cities suburbs. The project was sponsored by the Metropolitan Council (Met Council), a regional transportation planning organization, with partial funding from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Under state law, Met Council was required to obtain the consent of each municipality along the project’s proposed route. The Draft EIS, issued in 2012, evaluated three alternatives for routing the light rail project through a 1.5-mile section in Minneapolis with existing freight rail traffic. In 2013, the agencies announced that they would prepare a Supplemental Draft EIS that studied additional routes for that section. In early 2014, Met Council began to seek municipal consent for one of the alternatives being studied in the Supplemental Draft EIS. The Final EIS was published in May 2016, and FTA issued a ROD in July 2016.
The plaintiff filed the lawsuit in September 2014, while the Supplemental Draft EIS was being prepared. The plaintiff argued that Met Council and FTA violated NEPA by seeking municipal consent for a route before the environmental review process was completed, thus leading to a predetermined outcome. The district court ruled that FTA could not be sued under NEPA until it had completed the environmental review process and there was a final agency action. The district court allowed the plaintiff’s predetermination claim against Met Council to proceed, but the court ultimately determined that Met Council did not violate NEPA by obtaining municipal consent for a project alignment before completing environmental review. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that Met Council, as a non-federal project sponsor, could not be sued for violating NEPA or the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) NEPA regulations.
Ability to Sue State Agency Before Issuance of ROD. The court of appeals held that Met Council, as a non-federal project sponsor, could not be sued for violating 40 C.F.R. § 1506.1(a), a CEQ regulation requiring that “no action concerning the proposal shall be taken [before issuance of a ROD] which would . . . limit the choice of reasonable alternatives.” The court explained that a lawsuit alleging a NEPA violation can only be brought under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and a lawsuit under the APA can only be brought to challenge a final action by a federal agency. Met Council was not a federal agency, no federal agency was a party to the lawsuit, and this lawsuit was filed before the ROD was issued, so there was no final agency action to challenge.