Center for Sustainable Economy v. Jewell

779 F.3d 588 (2015)

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Center for Sustainable Economy v. Jewell

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
779 F.3d 588 (2015)

  • Written by Tanya Munson, JD


The Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) was an underwater expanse that contained large amounts of oil and natural gas beneath it. Drilling on the OCS had the potential to cause devastating effects on the environment. The United States had jurisdiction over approximately 200 miles of the OCS. The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) created a framework to facilitate the orderly and environmentally responsible exploration and extraction of oil and gas deposits on the OCS. OCSLA required the secretary of the Interior (defendant) to prepare a program every five years containing a schedule of proposed leases for OCS resource exploration and development. Section 18 of OCSLA required that the secretary’s program must balance competing economic, social, and environmental values in determining when and where to make leases available. The Center for Sustainable Economy (CSE) (plaintiff) petitioned for review of the Department of the Interior’s (Interior) adoption of the 2012-2017 Leasing Program, arguing that the Interior violated the requirements of § 18(a) of OCSLA by failing to rationally strike an appropriate balance between environmental costs and national energy needs. The Interior conducted a cost-benefit analysis of offering each of the four regions, Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska, of the OCS for drilling and compared environmental and social costs of proposed OCS leasing in each area with the costs of not authorizing additional leases on the OCS. The Interior counted pollution that affects densely populated areas as more costly than pollution occurring far from urban areas and determined it would be more favorable to permit leasing on the Alaskan OCS because it would cause less net social and environmental harm nationwide than would obtaining gas from substitute sources. The Interior also considered total energy-production capacity without regard to where the energy would ordinarily be consumed. CSE challenged the Interior’s cost-benefit methodology for evaluating new leasing on the ground that it was irrational because it did not prioritize avoiding drilling in Alaska. CSE argued that the economic analysis underlying the program failed to track the proportion of OCS energy consumed by the American public. CSE also argued that the Interior was required to quantify the informational value of delaying OCS leasing and failed to do so by only using a qualitative analysis.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Pillard, J.)

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