The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Surface Transportation Board (STB), which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has the authority to require an environmental impact statement (EIS) under NEPA when it considers whether to approve a railroad company merger. Vill. of Barrington v. STB, No. 09-1028 (D.C. Cir. 3/15/11). According to the court, the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, which requires STB to approve minor railroad mergers within 180 days unless it finds that the merger is likely to cause substantial anticompetitive effects, does not bar STB from imposing environmental conditions on mergers.
Petitioners had argued that STB lacked the statutory authority to impose any conditions on a merger that do not deal with competitive concerns because the law mandates that STB “shall approve” a “minor” merger in the absence of likely anticompetitive effects only. The court disagreed, ruling that language in the Act does not unambiguously deprive STB of the authority to impose environmental conditions, in light of another section that allows STB to “impose conditions governing the transaction,” whether or not minor. The court determined that given the statute’s ambiguity, a range of interpretations is permissible, including STB’s current interpretation. The court also ruled that STB’s actions complied with NEPA and were not arbitrary or capricious.