This tracker was launched April 7, 2022. It was last updated September 27, 2023.
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center has created this chart to collect court decisions on challenges to federal actions related to energy and the environment during the Biden administration. This tracker will be updated as new decisions are released. To submit updates or corrections please email: [email protected].
The Biden administration has won about 70% of the cases challenging its federal actions related to energy and the environment (as of 9/27/23).
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Cases by category 1
Plaintiffs challenged USFS approval of the Long Valley Exploration Drilling Project, a mining project near Mammoth Lakes, CA, under the APA, NEPA, and the Forest Service Organic Administration Act of 1897. The federal district court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed the Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment after finding the USFS’ decision not arbitrary or capricious. The federal court of appeals reversed.
Plaintiffs challenged Defendant’s 2021 approvals of the Vineyard Wind and South Fork Offshore Wind Projects, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to set aside the approvals as violating various environmental law statutes. The federal district court severed Plaintiff’s claims related to the South Fork Wind Project and dismissed Plaintiff’s claims asserted under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the Endangered Species Act for failing to provide statutorily required notice. Plaintiff’s second amended complaint consisted of one challenge to the Defendant’s issuance of a incidental harassment authorization (IHA) as violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The federal district court denied Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and granted that of Defendant’s for Plaintiff’s failure to show that NMFS acted arbitrarily, capriciously, or otherwise unlawfully in issuing the IHA.
Plaintiffs challenged Defendant’s April 2021 issuance of a CWA Section 404 permit to Moda Ingleside Oil Terminal, LLC (“Moda”) for the proposed expansion of the Moda Ingleside Energy Center in the Corpus Christi Ship Channel in violation of NEPA and the CWA. The federal district court denied Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and granted that of Defendants.
Petitioner sought review of EPA’s approval of Pennsylvania’s state implementation plans (SIPs), which specify how the state will meet national ambient air quality standards. The federal appellate court denied petitioner’s consolidated petitions for review, finding that EPA’s use of emission-based analysis to evaluate and approve SIP revisions, as well as using prior permitting standards as an emissions baseline, were not arbitrary and capricious. Finally, the court found that they were unable to review petitioner’s claims pertaining to NOx emissions from VOC control technologies because the matter was still pending before EPA. On Sept. 5, 2023 parties stipulated to the dismissal of the case.
Oil refinery petitioners challenged an EPA final rule extending deadlines for reporting compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard Program. The program is codified in the Clean Air Act and requires that all transportation fuel sold in the United States contains an annually determined volume of renewable fuel. Petitioners allege the extension rule unlawfully compresses annual compliance obligations under the RFS Program. The federal appeals court denied the petitions for review, holding that when the EPA issues untimely renewable fuel standards, the CAA does not entitle parties to a minimum compliance interval or 13 month compliance lead time.
Plaintiffs challenged the issuance of a January 2021 Record of Decision by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) approving the Thacker Pass Mine Project. Plaintiffs petitioned the court to enjoin the mining company, Lithium Nevada, from proceeding with construction on the project. Plaintiffs alleged that BLM rushed the project’s approval process, violated federal environmental statutes, and ignored the project’s serious environmental impacts. The District Court of Nevada denied Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction, stating that Plaintiffs could not make a strong showing of the likelihood of success on the merits because BLM complied with the legal requirements necessary for approving the mine project. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
The American Public Gas Association challenged DOE supplement (Apr. 20, 2022) to a final rule (Jan. 10, 2020) that set more stringent energy efficiency standards for commercial packaged boilers for commercial and multifamily residential buildings. Given the DOE’s lack of notice and comment after having relied on new literature and evidence, the federal appeals court granted the petitions, vacating the final rule and supplement and remanding to the agency.
Multistate coalition challenged EPA’s Aircraft GHG Rule (Jan. 2021), through which the agency adopted particulate matter emission standards and test procedures applicable to certain classes of airplane engines. Petitioners argue that EPA should have adopted more stringent standards than it did. In a per curiam opinion, the D.C. Cir. found that the Rule was within EPA’s authority under section 231 of the CAA, and that the agency reasonably explained its decision to harmonize domestic standards with International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) standards, dismissing the petitions for review.
Plaintiff and Plaintiff-Intervenors challenged a National Marine Fisheries Service Biological Opinion and Final Rule as arbitrary and capricious and in violation of the ESA; the rule implemented the closure of certain fishing grounds for right whale conservation purposes. The federal district court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and granted that of Defendants. On appeal, the federal appeals court issued a per curiam opinion, reversing the district court’s grant of summary judgment to NMFS and entering summary judgment for Plaintiffs on count one and four of their complaint. Additionally, the Court remanded the final rule back to NMFS.
Louisiana challenged National Marine Fisheries Service rule requiring turtle exclusion devices on certain shrimping boats. The federal district court originally granted the Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction but most recently denied the Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed their claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal for the 5th Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling, and upheld summary judgment in favor of NMFS, due to Plaintiffs’ lack of standing.
Resident of East Hampton, New York challenged the construction of the South Fork Wind Farm and the South Fork Export Cable in Montauk Point, Long Island, seeking a preliminary injunction. Plaintiff claimed that BOEM violated the APA, NEPA, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) by failing to adequately consider the Project’s potential harm to the area’s drinking water and the offshore Atlantic cod population, as well as the Project’s negative economic impact. The federal district court denied Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction because Plaintiff failed to show the likelihood of irreparable harm should the injunction not be granted, as the Project’s plan includes mitigation measures to offset potential contaminants to the area’s drinking water and Plaintiff’s other arguments were speculative.
Plaintiffs challenged approval of the Vineyard Wind 1 offshore wind project, seeking an injunction against BOEM and NMFS under NEPA, ESA, and APA. The federal district court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and denied Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment after finding that Plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the agencies violated ESA or NEPA.
Plaintiff challenged the Forest Service’s Decision Memo (October 2018) and Supplemental Decision Memo (May 2021) approving the Hanna Flats Project, which includes logging, burning, and clear cutting of about 2,000 acres on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. The federal district court granted Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment in a separate action and remanded. In this new action, Hanna Flats II, the district court granted the Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction and suspended the project until further order of the court. The federal appeals court vacated the district court’s grant of summary judgment in Hanna Flats I and preliminary injunction in Hanna Flats II and remanded both matters.
Petitioners, two oil and gas associations, challenged April 2022 Final Rule issued by DOT and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which revised federal pipeline safety regulations to require the installation of remote-controlled or automatic shut-off valves in some types of new or replaced gas and hazardous liquid pipelines. Petitioners challenged the standard as it applies to “gathering” pipelines used to collect raw gas or crude oil from a well. Petitioners argue that PHMSA unlawfully failed to disclose the economic basis for regulating gathering pipelines when it proposed the standard and failed to make a reasoned determination that regulating these pipelines was appropriate. The federal court of appeals granted the petition for review and vacated the final rule as it applies to gathering pipeline facilities.
NGO coalition challenged the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management’s lease of land in Gulf of Mexico for oil production for failure to estimate downstream greenhouse gas emissions. The federal district court issued a mixed opinion, vacating Lease Sale 257, and Intervenor-Defendants, American Petroleum Institute and State of Louisiana, appealed. The federal appeals court vacated the district court’s order and remanded with instructions to the district court to dismiss the case as moot given the Inflation Reduction Act’s provision that the leases won in Lease Sale 257 be issued.
Plaintiffs challenged the approval by USFS and FWS of the Knotty Pines Project, claiming that the Project violated NEPA, APA, ESA, and the National Forest Management Act. The district court granted the preliminary injunction, holding that Plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the USFS and FWS did not adequately consider illegal motorized vehicle uses’ impact on grizzly bears, and showed imminent irreparable harm to their use of national forest and to grizzly bears. Furthermore, Plaintiffs showed irreparable harm to grizzly bears to be caused by the project, and the balance of the equities and public interest favored grizzly bears.
Plaintiff challenged the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) for failing to review development and production plans (DPPs) of Beta Unit Offshore programs in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. The federal district court granted in part and denied in part Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims. The Court dismissed Plaintiff’s claim that the agency’s review of the DPPs was arbitrary and capricious but allowed Plaintiff’s claim under OCSLA to continue, as well as their claim under the Administrative Procedure Act that BOEM unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed agency action.
Plaintiffs filed an injunction against the Bureau of Reclamation alleging that the Bureau violated NEPA and the APA when they approved a Proposed Water Transfer involving the Colorado River. The district court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction, finding Plaintiffs unlikely to succeed on the merits and unlikely to suffer irreparable harm from the Proposed Water Transfer.
Multistate coalition, led by Louisiana, challenged the use of interim social cost of carbon estimates issued by Interagency Working Group, seeking preliminary injunction. The Plaintiffs alleged that the use of the interim estimates would result in increased regulatory and financial burdens. The federal district court granted the preliminary injunction, which the federal appeals court stayed pending the Defendant’s appeal. The federal appeals court dismissed the case due to the Plaintiff’s failure to prove standing since, amongst other things, the use of the interim estimates is left to agency discretion and therefore the alleged harm is merely hypothetical and not an injury in fact as required for the court to have jurisdiction over the case.
Plaintiffs challenged the second approval (Mar. 2023) of the ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to enjoin winter 2023 construction activities for the Project. Plaintiffs claimed that BLM, in approving the Willow Project, violated NEPA, the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act (NPRPA), and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), by failing to consider a reasonable range of alternatives and arbitrarily limiting its authority. The federal district court denied Plaintiff’s motion, as the Plaintiffs did not demonstrate that they would suffer irreparable harm if construction were to continue, and the balance of the equities and the public interest did not tip in Plaintiffs’ favor. Plaintiff’s voluntarily dismissed their appeal of this decision and moved for summary judgment on July 26, 2023.
Plaintiffs challenged the second approval (Mar. 2023) of the ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, seeking a preliminary injunction to enjoin winter 2023 construction activities for the Project. Plaintiffs claimed that BLM, in approving the Willow Project, violated NEPA, the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act, and the ESA by failing to consider reasonable alternatives, failing to properly analyze downstream global greenhouse gas emissions from future oil development that the project will facilitate, and failing to consider the impact of carbon emissions on threatened species. The federal district court denied Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction, as the Plaintiffs did not demonstrate that they would suffer irreparable harm if construction were to continue and the balance of the equities and the public interest did not tip in Plaintiffs’ favor. Plaintiff’s voluntarily dismissed their appeal of this decision and moved for summary judgment on July 26, 2023.
Plaintiffs challenged the Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project, specifically the Forest Service’s Dec. 2022 issuance of a Supplemental Information Report (SIR) for the project instead of a supplemental Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement after the court found the 2019 EA inadequate (Mar. 2022). Plaintiffs allege that the Project, which consists of commercial logging, road building and trail improvements, herbicide application, and prescribed burning in the Hoosier National Forest -- the only National Forest within the state of Indiana -- will further impact Lake Monroe and the surrounding watershed. The federal district court granted Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs stipulated to a voluntarily dismissal of their action after USFS withdrew the SIR to allow the Service to further evaluate the original decision.
City of Los Angeles challenged FAA decision allowing the construction of a replacement terminal at the Bob Hope “Hollywood Burbank” Airport. The federal appeals court granted the petition for review in part, and remanded the case to the FAA. The court held that the FAA failed to take a hard look at construction noise impacts and based its cumulative impacts analysis on its inadequately considered conclusions about construction noise. On remand, the FAA must address 1) the deficiency in its construction noise analysis, 2) the resulting deficiency in its cumulative impacts analysis, and 3) the resulting deficiency in its environmental impacts analysis.
Plaintiffs challenged USFWS decision to issue a five-year incidental take regulation under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, allowing the Alaska Oil and Gas Association (AOGA) to move forward with its petition for oil and gas development in the North Slope, including an authorization to take the Southern Beaufort Sea stock polar bears and Pacific walrus. On de novo review, the federal district court adopted the recommendations of the magistrate judge to deny Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and grant that of Defendant’s.
Plaintiff challenged a 2021 incidental take permit issued by NMFS that authorized the taking of ESA-listed humpback whales in sablefish pot fishery operations. The district court granted the Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the NMFS violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act (“MMPA”) and the APA by issuing the permit without having developed a take reduction plan. In July 2023, both parties signed a settlement agreement, where NMFS agreed to establish a take reduction team. The district court remanded the MMPA permit for the sablefish pot gear fishery to NMFS for further consideration.
Plaintiffs challenged USFS February 2023 approval of a project that would authorize aerial shootings by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of “unauthorized” cattle in the Gila National Forest. Plaintiffs allege (1) that this approval violates a June 30, 2022 stipulation by which USFS is to provide Plaintiffs and the public with at least 75 days’ notice of its decision to shoot cattle before conducting such operations, (2) that the USFS has no legal authority to carry out the aerial shooting, and (3) that the USFS violated NEPA by failing to fully consider all significant environmental impacts of the aerial shooting. The federal district court denied Plaintiff’s motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.
Oklahoma sought to enjoin the Department of Interior from enforcing its May 18, 2021 decision, which the state argued would unlawfully strip it of its jurisdiction to regulate surface coal mining and reclamation operations by imposing, instead, a federal program within the lands of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The federal district court denied Oklahoma’s motion for preliminary injunction, holding that the plain language of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act precluded state-administered reclamation or regulatory programs on “Indian land.” On summary judgment, the federal district court agreed with the defendants that the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is the sole regulatory authority within the boundaries of the Creek, Cherokee, and Choctaw Reservations, that Oklahoma does not have jurisdiction over surface mining or reclamation operations on these lands, and that application of the state’s regulatory and reclamation programs to land within the Reservations is preempted by the SMCRA. Most recently, the federal appeals court granted the parties’ stipulation to dismiss the Plaintiff State’s appeal.
Plaintiff’s challenged the Forest Service’s Spirit Lake Project Environmental Assessment (April 2020) and Decision Notice/Finding of No Significant Impact (March 2021). The federal district court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The federal appeals court affirmed and subsequently denied the Plaintiff’s petition for panel rehearing.
Unsuccessful nominees challenged EPA decision that reconstituted the agency’s advisory committees on air quality and sought a preliminary injunction or, in the alternative, partial summary judgment as to its claims regarding one of the committees. The Plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment was denied.
Plaintiffs challenged Defendant’s February 2021 Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and Environmental Assessment as inadequate and arbitrarily eliminating a decades-old “hopper dredging window” put in place to limit dredging to certain times of year. The federal district court granted Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and denied that of Defendants. The court found that Defendants failed to take a hard look at the action’s environmental impacts and offered an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence before the agency, therefore such decision was arbitrary and capricious. The court remanded the matter to the agency for further consideration. Defendants voluntarily dismissed their appeal.
Plaintiffs challenged two projects authorized by Defendants to remove and thin some dead and down trees in the Yosemite Park area. The federal district court denied the Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction because they failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits and the public interest was in favor of denying the injunction.
Multistate coalition, led by Louisiana, challenged agency authority to pause oil and gas lease sales, seeking injunction. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the federal district court’s order, which granted the Plaintiff’s preliminary injunction. On remand, the federal district court issued a permanent injunction enjoining Defendant’s from implementing the pause of eligible oil and natural gas lease sales except for those cancelled or postponed after March 24, 2021, and as to any lease sales involving non-plaintiff states.
Lobster industry parties sought preliminary injunction against NMFS rule, which implemented a restricted area for buoy-line lobster fishing to prevent North Atlantic right whale entanglements. The federal district court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction in part and denied in part, enjoining enforcement of the seasonal closure until a decision was made regarding whether the rule was lawful. Government appealed and the federal appeals court vacated Plaintiff’s preliminary injunction and remanded for further proceedings. Upon remand, the parties stipulated to a dismissal of the action.
Local governments and a trade association opposed two delays of the FWS’ January 2021 Critical Habitat Rule, which shrunk previously designated critical habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl. Federal district court dismissed as moot in light of the issuance of a new final habitat rule in November 2021, which formally withdrew the delays.
Plaintiffs challenged November 2021 Final Rule issued by NMFS, which implemented Amendment 14 to the Fishery Management Plan for Salmon Fisheries in the EEZ off the Coast of Alaska (the “Salmon FMP”). The amendment would prohibit commercial salmon fishing in the federal waters of the Cook Inlet and would defer all management decisions for the Cook Inlet salmon fishery to the State of Alaska. The federal district court issued a mixed opinion on summary judgment. The court held that 1) NMFS acted arbitrarily and capriciously in excluding the recreational salmon fishery in the Cook Inlet EEZ Area from the Salmon FMP, 2) the rule’s delegation of the management of the Cook Inlet salmon fishery to the State of Alaska is inconsistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and 3) Amendment 14 and the Final Rule do not comply with national standards for fishery conservation and management. Plaintiffs, however, failed to establish that the Final Rule violated NEPA. Further, the court held that Plaintiffs in a consolidated case, Humbyrd et al v. Raimondo et al (No. 21-0247), lacked standing to bring their constitutional claims against the Final Rule and denied their motion for summary judgment. The Court vacated the Final Rule and remanded to NMFS to issue regulations implementing a new FMP amendment consistent with its order no later than May 1, 2024.
Plaintiffs challenged Defendant’s failure to make required and timely 12-month findings and listing determinations for the Santa Ana speckled dace and the Long Valley speckled dace in violation of the ESA. The parties stipulated that USFW shall review the status of the two species and submit to the Federal Register 12-month findings as to whether the listing of the species as threatened or endangered is or is not warranted on or before July 31, 2024.
NGO coalition challenged logging project that would potentially affect the critically endangered Southern Sierra Nevada Pacific Fisher. The federal appeals court reversed dismissal of one claim and remanded for further consideration. After the federal district court denied Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction, Plaintiffs filed notice of voluntary dismissal and court closed the case.
Plaintiff’s challenged Defendant’s “Ripley Project,” which would authorize new road construction and timber harvest activities across 29,180 acres of land. The federal district court granted Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction.
State challenged Bureau of Land Management decision which delayed the effect of Trump-era Public Land Orders (“PLO’s”). The federal district court held that Congress did not intend to impose on BLM an obligation to publish a PLO once it is signed and that the decision to delay the effect of the PLO’s was not a final agency action. Therefore, Defendant’s motion to dismiss was granted by the federal district court.
Non-profits challenged the U.S. Forest Service’s “Elk Smith Project,” which authorized the burning/tree-cutting of 10,329 acres of land within “Inventoried Roadless Area’s.” The federal district court denied the Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and granted the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
Ranch challenged EPA authority to enter its property to investigate potential CWA violations and challenged adequacy of EPA FOIA response. The federal district court granted the Defendant’s motion to dismiss and denied Plaintiff’s motion for leave to file a second amended complaint.
NGO coalition challenged the Bureau of Land Management proposed action to reduce wild horse populations, seeking preliminary injunction. The federal district court denied the Plaintiff’s motion.
Multistate coalition, led by Texas, challenged decision revoking permit granted for construction of Keystone XL Pipeline. The federal district court granted the Defendant’s motion to dismiss.
Multistate coalition, led by Missouri, challenged Executive Order 13990, creating Interagency Working Group tasked with determining social cost of carbon. The federal district court dismissed coalition’s motion for preliminary injunction as moot and granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The federal appeals court affirmed the district court’s judgment and subsequently denied the multistate coalition’s petition for rehearing en banc.
- Where multiple categories apply to a case, it will be included in each category, leading to an inflation of total case numbers.
- “Outcome” refers to the ultimate outcome (including outcome on appeal) from the perspective of the Biden administration.
- “Judge Appt” tracks the political party affiliation of the judge’s nominating president. If the decision was issued by a panel of judges, this section tracks the political party affiliation of the nominating president for the majority of the judges on the panel.