Case Law Updates on the Environment (CLUE)
Case Law Update Details
Greene/Guilford Environmental Association v. Wykle
U.S. Court of Appeals - 3rd Circuit
I-81 Chambersburg Interchange Project
The Interstate 81 Chambersburg Interchange Project involves the construction of a highway interchange on Interstate 81 near Chambersburg in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Federal funds for the project were authorized by Congress in 1987 with the passage of the Surface Transportation & Uniform Relocation Assistance Act (STURAA). In 1995, FHWA and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) issued the final EIS for the project. Prior to issuing the Record of Decision (ROD) approving the project, the agencies learned that the selected alternative would impact historic property. As a result, the agencies slightly modified the selected alternative and issued a Reevaluation of the FEIS in 1999. After determining that the modified selected alternative would not create new impacts, the agencies determined that a supplemental EIS was not necessary. FHWA then issued the ROD approving the modified selected alternative, followed by a Reevaluation of the ROD taking into account updated traffic and other data.
In April 2001, Greene/Guilford Environmental Association, Citizens for Planned Community Growth, and various individuals filed suit against FHWA challenging the agency’s approval of the interchange under NEPA, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the STURAA. PennDOT intervened in the action as a defendant. The plaintiffs filed a motion for limited discovery in addition to the administrative record. In October 2001, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania denied the plaintiffs’ motion. The parties then filed cross motions for summary judgment. In March 2003, the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The plaintiffs appealed the District Court’s decisions to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In March 2004, the Third Circuit adopted in full the District Court’s 2003 opinion and affirmed the decisions of the District Court. No further action was taken in the case.
Purpose and Need. In its 2003 opinion, the District Court held that the modified selected alternative satisfied the purpose and need of the project as determined by STURAA. The court reasoned that the agencies appropriately concluded that the modified selected alternative would satisfy STURAA’s requirement that the project “relieve traffic congestion on an existing interchange.” The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision, adopting the District Court’s analysis by reference.
Agency Bias/Predetermination. In its 2003 opinion, the District Court held that the agencies were not unduly biased and did not predetermine the outcome of the EIS process. The court stated that “[t]he test for unlawful predetermination is not whether the agency is subjectively impartial prior to issuing the ROD, but, rather, whether the NEPA process is completed with ‘good faith objectivity.’ …. In fact, NEPA assumes that agencies will have a subjective bias toward their proposal. ” (emphasis in original). The court also noted that “[s]tatements by agency officials favoring one alternative over others prior to completion of the NEPA process do not necessarily violate NEPA,” but rather “may simply be subjective expressions of confidence that the proposed alternative will survive the NEPA process.” The court concluded that, in this case, the FHWA and PennDOT had “appropriately and thoroughly analyzed the reasonable alternatives” for the project and had “completed the EIS process with good faith objectivity.” The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision, adopting the District Court’s analysis by reference.
Supplemental EIS. In its 2003 opinion, the District Court held that the agencies appropriately determined that a supplemental EIS was not necessary. Stating that a supplemental EIS need only be prepared if “new circumstances… present a seriously different picture of the environmental impact of the proposed project from what was previously envisioned,” the court disposed of the four arguments presented by the plaintiffs:
- Selection of Alternative Not Evaluated in EIS. The court held that even though the modified selected alternative was not discussed in the EIS, the agencies reasonably concluded in the Reevaluation of the FEIS that “the impacts associated with [the modified selected alternative] are substantially the same as the originally Preferred Alternative.”
- Increased Development. The court held that the agencies properly determined that the increased level of development in the area of the modified selected alternative did not require the preparation of a supplemental EIS. The court reasoned that the agencies “reasonably concluded that the increased development… generated substantially less traffic than originally projected” in the earlier traffic studies, and therefore, the increased development did not result in significant changes in traffic conditions necessitating the preparation of a supplemental EIS.
- Zoning Changes. The court held that the agencies properly concluded that the zoning changes affecting the project would not result in significant changes in traffic conditions such that a supplemental EIS was required. The court reasoned that the numerous traffic studies conducted by the agencies provided sufficient evidence that the traffic volumes conformed to traffic projections in the EIS.
- Agricultural Security Areas Laws. The court held that although agricultural land acquired by the agencies for the project was protected by Pennsylvania’s Agricultural Security Areas (ASA) laws, the inclusion of this entire parcel in the modified selected alternative did not create significant changes necessitating the preparation of a supplemental EIS. The court reasoned that the ASA laws “are merely a procedural hurdle to condemnation proceedings,” and that this argument was moot because PennDOT had already purchased the parcel. The court also noted that the restrictive covenants in PennDOT’s deed to the parcel limit the agencies’ use of the land such that acquisition of the entire parcel would not materially alter the impacts set forth in the EIS.
The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision, adopting the District Court’s analysis by reference.
. In its 2003 opinion, the District Court held that the agencies did not improperly segment the project from tangentially related projects in the area. The court reasoned that the agencies had appropriately considered connected and cumulative actions in compliance with NEPA and reasonably concluded that the project was not a connected or cumulative action. The court also reasoned that the modified selected alternative “has logical termini and independent utility,” as required for segmentation under the FHWA regulations, and that “the projects are not interdependent to the extent that it is unwise or unreasonable to build [the modified selected alternative’ without [completing the other projects].” The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision, adopting the District Court’s analysis by reference.
Analysis of Alternatives Following Changes in Legislation
. In its 2003 opinion, the District Court held that the agencies did not violate NEPA by failing to consider alternatives in other counties following amendments to STURAA. The court reasoned that the amendment did not change the requirement that the agencies complete a project specific to the Chambersburg, Pennsylvania area, but rather “provided authorization for other projects in addition to the interchange project.” The court further stated that “the project needs… have never changed.” The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision, adopting the District Court’s analysis by reference.
Inconsistency with Land Use Plan
. In its 2003 opinion, the District Court held that the agencies did not violate NEPA by failing to reconcile the modified selected alternative with the comprehensive plan for Greene Township. Noting that the agencies determined that “reconciliation is impossible because the comprehensive plans of Greene Township and Franklin County are contradictory,” the court reasoned that “the Agencies’ failure to state explicitly the impossibility of complete reconciliation does not violate [the FHWA regulations] and NEPA.” The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision, adopting the District Court’s analysis by reference.
Section 106 of NHPA
Area of Potential Effects
. In its 2003 opinion, the District Court held that the agencies appropriately considered the impacts of the project on historic properties. The court reasoned that the agencies selected a reasonable “area of potential effect” (APE) and “fully evaluated all historic properties within the APE.” The court noted that the agencies’ failure to consider certain historic properties did not violate Section 106 because those properties were outside the APE. The plaintiffs did not raise this issue on appeal.
Administrative Record – Request for Extra-Record Discovery
. In its 2001 opinion, the District Court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for limited discovery in addition to the administrative record. The court reasoned that the extra-record material that the plaintiffs sought to have included was not necessary to support the plaintiffs’ arguments and that the plaintiffs had presented no evidence that the agencies acted in bad faith. The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision. The court reasoned that “the evidence simply does not reflect a ‘strong showing of bad faith’” and “does not show that the other discovery it sought were considered by FHWA,” and therefore, the District Court did not abuse its discretion by refusing additional discovery. The court also held that the District Court appropriately allowed affidavits not part of the administrative record to be submitted by FHWA for the court’s review because those affidavits helped to explain FHWA’s studies and conclusions.