A federal court in Washington state has upheld a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps’) decision to issue a permit to Puget Sound Energy Inc. (PSE) to perform renovations at its hydroelectric power plant, located about 30 miles east of Seattle. Snoqualmie Valley Pres. Alliance v. Corps, No. 10-1108 (W.D. Wash. 3/30/11).

Plaintiff, a non-profit corporation, alleged that the Corps’ decision, which included widening a Snoqualmie River channel and lowering the height of a diversion dam, violated the Clean Water Act, NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act because the issued permit did not require an environmental impact statement. The Corps had issued PSE nationwide general permits that did not require any individualized review. Plaintiffs argued that PSE did not qualify for a nationwide permit and that the Corps should have proceeded under individual permit mandates, which would have required a comprehensive procedure for reviewing environmental impacts.

Ruling in the Corps’ favor, the court deferred to the agency’s expertise, ruling that it could not set aside the agency action as “arbitrary and capricious” unless the action had no rational basis. According to the court, the Corps had discretion to issue a nationwide permit and it could also issue PSE individual permits, if warranted. The court agreed with the Corps’ characterization of the renovation activity as “maintenance and repair” and rejected plaintiff’s argument that the project involved more than maintenance and repair.