The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed challenges filed by several environmental groups to drilling permits issued by the U.S. Department of Interior during and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Gulf Restoration Network, Inc. v. Salazar, No. 10-60413 (5th Cir. 5/30/12).

Petitioners argued that the permit approvals violated the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OSCL A) and National Environmental Policy Act (NE PA) because agency officials failed to consider the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill and conducted an inadequate review of the permits under NE PA. Petitioners also argued that the government posted the public versions of exploration plans and development operations coordination documents “in an obscure location on its website, making it difficult to find,” thus making it impossible for them to participate in the review process.  

Applying the administrative exhaustion rule, the court dismissed the claims because petitioners failed to participate in the administrative proceedings and did not show “sufficient justification for excusing them from that exhaustion requirement.” According to the court, “a letter to the Interior Department from one petitioner broadly critical of the agency’s approval policies for Gulf oil development, cannot be considered participation in the administrative review process.” The court also stated that petitioners failed to demonstrate that the agency applied an “illegal, clandestine, internal policy” when approving permits and they did not show that the agency’s actions or omissions caused their failure to participate in the administrative proceedings