The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the dismissal of an environmental group’s challenge to the U.S. Department of Interior’s (DOI ’s) Bureau of Reclamation plan for operating the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, ruling that the bureau’s annual plans are not “major federal actions” under the National Environmental Policy Act (NE PA). Grand Canyon Trust v. Bureau of Reclamation, No. 11-16326 (9th Cir. 8/13/12). Plaintiffs alleged that the plan violated NE PA, the Administrative Procedure Act and Endangered Species Act. They also challenged 2009 recovery goals developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the humpback chub, a Glen Canyon fish species. The district court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and plaintiffs appealed.  

According to the Ninth Circuit, because the agency’s annual plans are not “major federal actions,” they are not subject to NE PA requirements. According to the court, “[t]he time for an agency to give a hard look at environmental consequences, and the opportunity for serious NE PA litigation on whether alternatives were adequately considered, should come in this context at the points where an agency establishes operating criteria for a dam, or embarks on some significant shift of direction in operating policy, not merely when there is a routine and required annual reporting.” The court also dismissed as moot the 2009 humpback chub recovery goals challenge,finding it did not have jurisdiction to review goals replaced in 2011.