D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decides Against Challenge to East Coast Airspace Redesign

In a per curiam Abbreviated Disposition that will not be published, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit summarily denied 12 separately-filed petitions for review that questioned the legality of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Environmental Impact Statement for its East Coast Airspace Redesign. The matter, Rockland County v. Federal Aviation Administration, brought 12 lawsuits together that represented a multitude of petitioners from Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. The Court kicked all of the citizens’ complaints about the effect the Airspace Redesign would have on their environment to the curb, deferring to the FAA’s analysis.

The Court reached this conclusion without addressing many of the arguments that the Petitioners presented in their briefs and at oral argument. First, with respect to Petitioners’ argument that the EIS violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the court simply stated that it is deferring to the FAA’s reasoning that they did everything they needed to do. Not mentioned in the Court’s cursory and truncated analysis is the fact that the FAA has said that it will not implement the Night Routing part of the EIS’ “Preferred Alternative,” and the effect that failure will have on the environmental impacts of the Airspace Redesign.

Second, the Court also deferred to the FAA in deciding that the EIS sufficiently took into account the state and local parks and parklands that would be affected by the Airspace Redesign. The Court, states that the Petitioners should have engaged in a “battle of the experts” and should have “impugn[ed] the agency’s screening methodology.” Disposition, p.8. In most cases, impugning an agency’s methodology is looked upon in great disfavor by a court.

Finally, the Court decided that the Airspace Redesign fell within the de minimis exception of the Clean Air Act, thereby releasing the FAA from any requirement to perform any type of analysis as to the impact the project will have on the surrounding area’s air quality programs. The Court admitted that the FAA did not follow the procedures set forth by the EPA in 40 CFR 93.153, but the “fuel burn analysis” that the FAA did create was sufficient. This was true, the Court concluded, despite the fact that the “fuel burn analysis” was devoid of any mention of criteria pollutants or indirect emissions as required by EPA’s regulation 40 CFR 93.153. The Court went on to hold that any error that the FAA committed in not following the required air quality procedures was harmless error.

It is obvious why the Court does not want this decision published. It is rudimentary and lacking in analysis of many of the arguments presented by the Petitioners. Moreover, it is cursory in statements of law and fact. For example, on p. 10 of the Disposition, in a footnote, the court states:

The petitioners also argue that the fuel burn analysis failed to show the redesign will reduce emissions in all relevant nonattainment and maintenance areas, see 40 C.F.R. 93.153(b), but that argument is not properly before us because the petitioners failed to raise it until their reply brief, Sitka Sound Seafoods, Inc. v. NLRB, 206 F.3d 1175, 1181 (D.C. Cir. 2000).

In fact, the Petitioners had raised that issue in their opening brief, not once, but twice. See, Petitioners’ Joint Brief, pp. 88 and 93.

In the end, it is sad to see that a Court that prides itself on having many of its members become Supreme Court Justices, hide behind a per curiam decision that is so superficial and so careless. The Petitioners now have 45 days to decide whether to seek a rehearing or a rehearing en banc.

Other Articles on the subject:

Other posts on this blog about the Airspace Redesign:

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