Department of Transportation v. Public Citizen

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) requires federal agencies to analyze the environmental impact of their proposals and actions in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), but Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations allow an agency to prepare a more limited Environmental Assessment (EA) if the agency’s proposed action neither is categorically excluded from the EIS production requirement nor would clearly require production of an EIS. An agency that decides, pursuant to an EA, that no EIS is required must issue a “finding of no significant impact” (FONSI). The Clean Air Act (CAA) leaves States to develop “implementation plans” to comply with national air quality standards mandated by the Act, and requires federal agencies’ actions to “conform” to those state plans, 42 U. S. C. §7506(c)(1). In 1982, Congress enacted a moratorium, prohibiting, inter alia, Mexican motor carriers from obtaining operating authority within the United States and authorizing the President to lift the moratorium. In 2001, the President announced his intention to lift the moratorium once new regulations were prepared to grant operating authority to Mexican motor carriers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published one proposed rule addressing the application form for such carriers and another addressing the establishment of a safety-inspection regime for carriers receiving operating authority. Congress subsequently provided, in §350 of a DOT appropriations Act, that no funds appropriated could be obligated or expended to review or process any Mexican motor carrier’s applications until FMCSA implemented specific application and safety-monitoring requirements. Acting pursuant to NEPA, FMCSA issued an EA for its proposed rules. The EA did not consider the environmental impact that might be caused by the increased presence of Mexican trucks in the United States, concluding that any such impact would be an effect of the moratorium’s modification, not the regulations’ implementation. Concluding that the regulations’ issuance would have no significant environmental impact, FMCSA issued a FONSI. In subsequent interim rules, FMCSA relied on the EA and FONSI to demonstrate compliance with NEPA, and determined that any emissions increase from the regulations would fall below the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) threshold levels needed to trigger a conformity review under the CAA. Before the moratorium was lifted, respondents sought judicial review of the proposed rules, arguing that their promulgation violated NEPA and the CAA. The Court of Appeals agreed, finding the EA deficient because it did not consider the environmental impact of lifting the moratorium, when that action was reasonably foreseeable at the time FMCSA prepared the EA and directing FMCSA to prepare an EIS and a full CAA conformity determination for the regulations.