The plaintiffs appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendant United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The plaintiffs had challenged the adequacy of an environmental impact statement (EIS) and an environmental assessment (EA) for the Coos Bay Resource Management Plan (RMP) and the Sandy-Remote Analysis Area respectively, both of which were within the Coos Bay District. The district court found that the EIS claim was not ripe and it rejected the EA challenge, granting summary judgment to defendants on both claims. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held the EIS claim ripe and both the EIS and EA inadequate under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The court thus reversed the district court and directed summary judgment be entered for the plaintiffs.
When timber sales were slated to for Coos Bay RMP and the Sandy-Remote Analysis Area, the plaintiffs challenged the sufficiency under NEPA of the EIS and the EA for the respective sales. Germane to the plaintiffs' challenge was whether BLM had sufficiently considered possible spreading of the root fungus Phytophthora lateralis to the area's Port Orford Cedars. The fungus was susceptible to spreading due to logging activities, and cedars infected by the fungus usually die. The defendants first argued that the plaintiffs' challenge was premature under Ohio Forestry Ass'n v. Sierra Club (Ohio Forestry).
The Ninth Circuit distinguished the immediate case from Ohio Forestry. Whereas the plaintiffs in Ohio Forestry alleged that the relevant RMP violated the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), (the statute requiring the RMP), the plaintiffs in the instant case claimed that the EIS violated NEPA. NEPA confers procedural rights, and because the plaintiffs alleged a procedural injury, the instant claim possessed the imminency that Ohio Forestry lacked and therefore was ripe.
The defendants then argued that under NEPA, they were not required to include as part of the EIS a detailed environmental analysis of the fungus and the cedar until resources were committed to the sale. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, noting that one function of the EIS is to evaluate environmental consequences of contemplated plans. The plaintiffs claimed that the EIS was inadequate because it merely "tiered" to the Port Orford Cedar Management Guidelines ("Guidelines"), a document never subjected to NEPA review. While tiering is generally permitted, tiering to a document not subjected to NEPA review is not permitted. Without the Guidelines, the EIS was left with a two-sentence discussion of the fungus's potential impact on the cedars, which the Ninth Circuit deemed inadequate.
Next, the plaintiffs challenged the adequacy of the Sandy-Remote EA. Of the three claims raised by the plaintiffs, the Ninth Circuit agreed with two. The court held that the EA improperly tiered to the Guidelines and also failed to address the cumulative impact of the timber sale and "other 'reasonably foreseeable future actions' on the Cedar." Specifically, but not exclusively, the Ninth Circuit found that BLM should have considered all reasonably foreseeable timber sales under the RMP for the district. In addition to the cumulative impact analysis required for the RMP for the Coos Bay District, the Ninth Circuit required BLM to conduct a cumulative impact analysis in all EAs for the site-specific project in the Coos Bay District. Because the Sandy-Remote EA did not consider cumulative impacts from all reasonably foreseeable actions and because the Coos Bay EIS was inadequate under NEPA, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court decisions and remanded with instructions that summary judgment be entered for the plaintiffs on both issues. The dissent considered the cumulative impacts analysis in the EA for the Sandy-Remote Area permissibly limited to the area itself and concluded that the EA was not, therefore, an arbitrary and capricious limitation on the scope of the analysis