Citizens Against Rails-To-Trails v. Surface Transp. Bd. & USA, No. 00-1387

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Writing for the CourtCurt A. Fransen, Deputy Attorney General, State of Idaho, and Howard A. Funke argued the cause for intervenors. With them on the joint brief were Richard A. Allen, Andrea Ferster, Allan G. Lance, Attorney General, State of Idaho, Clive J. Strong, Div
Citation267 F.3d 1144,347 U.S. App DC 382
Docket NumberNo. 00-1387
Decision Date26 October 2001
Parties(D.C. Cir. 2001) Citizens Against Rails-To-Trails, an unincorporated association, et al., Petitioners v. Surface Transportation Board and United States of America, Respondents Union Pacific Railroad Company, et al., Intervenors

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267 F.3d 1144 (D.C. Cir. 2001)
Citizens Against Rails-To-Trails, an unincorporated association, et al., Petitioners
v.
Surface Transportation Board and United States of America, Respondents
Union Pacific Railroad Company, et al., Intervenors
No. 00-1387
United States Court of Appeals FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT
Argued September 6, 2001
Decided October 26, 2001

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On Petition for Review of an Order of the Surface Transportation Board

James R. Baarda argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs was Nels J. Ackerson.

Evelyn G. Kitay, Attorney, Surface Transportation Board, argued the cause for respondents. With her on the brief were Ellen D. Hanson, Deputy General Counsel, and David J. Lazerwitz, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice.

Curt A. Fransen, Deputy Attorney General, State of Idaho, and Howard A. Funke argued the cause for intervenors. With them on the joint brief were Richard A. Allen, Andrea Ferster, Allan G. Lance, Attorney General, State of Idaho, Clive J. Strong, Division Chief, J. Michael Hemmer, Carolyn F. Corwin, James V. Dolan and Lawrence E. Wzorek. Charles H. Montange entered an appearance.

Before: Henderson, Randolph and Rogers, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge Rogers.

Rogers, Circuit Judge:

A coalition of Idaho land owners denominated Citizens Against Rails-to-Trails ("CART") petition for review of the decision of the Surface Transportation Board in Union Pacific Railroad Company--Abandonment--Wallace Branch, ID, STB Docket No. AB-33 (June 26, 2000). In that decision the Board authorized Union Pacific to salvage 71.5 miles of its Wallace Branch rail line in Idaho, subject to four environmental conditions, and also authorized the right-of-way to be used as a trail pursuant to the National Trails System Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1247(d) (2000) ("Trails Act"). CART challenges only the authorization of interim trail use.1 It contends

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that the Board was required to assess the environmental impacts of trail use and erred in not disallowing trail use because the right-of-way is contaminated. The Board determined that the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4343 (1982), does not apply to the Trails Act, and that the Trails Act does not otherwise require an environmental assessment prior to issuance of a certificate for interim trail use. Because CART fails to show that these determinations were contrary to law or unreasonable, we deny the petition.

I.

This case is before the court following the Surface Transportation Board's decision on remand from this court in State of Idaho By and Through Idaho Pub. Utilities Comm'n v. I.C.C., 35 F.3d 585, 599 (D.C. Cir. 1994). In that case, this court affirmed the Interstate Commerce Commission's decision to permit immediate discontinuance of rail operations on the Wallace Branch rail line, but remanded the Commission's conditional authorization of salvage. Id. at 599. After further proceedings, the Surface Transportation Board, as successor to the Commission,2 through its Section of Environmental Analysis, issued for public review and comment a draft supplemental environmental assessment. Upon review of the Section's final assessment, the Board concluded that if salvage is conducted according to the plans worked out by the railroad and other federal agencies, and if four new environmental mitigation conditions were implemented, then the railroad's salvage proposal would not have significant adverse environmental impacts.

The Board also issued a certificate of interim trail use ("CITU") permitting interim trail use and rail banking of the right-of-way because the State of Idaho and the Coeur d'Alene Tribe had submitted the requisite statement of willingness to assume full responsibility for the property and the railroad had indicated its willingness to negotiate with them. The Board rejected CART's argument that the issuance of a Trails Act authorization required the preparation of environmental documentation under NEPA. The Board took the position that questions relating to how and whether the rightof-way should be used as a trail were not questions for the Board to decide. Viewing its role under the Trails Act as ministerial, the Board concluded that issuance of a CITU is not a federal action under NEPA. The Board further observed that the environmental implications of trail use on the right-of-way had been thoroughly addressed in the detailed studies performed in connection with civil proceedings that led to a consent decree in 1999.3

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II.

CART contends that the Trails Act requires the Board to implement that Act in a manner to effect its public recreational purposes.4 Consequently, in CART's view, the Board's 71.5 mile length, and thus the Tribe is a reversionary interest holder of the right of way. See Intervenor's Brief at 5 citing Idaho v. U.S., 121 S. Ct. 2135 (June 18, 2001). As the State of Idaho explained at oral argument, "ceded area" refers to land the Tribe originally held but ceded to the United States during initial western expansion through various treaties. Because the land of CART's members will be directly affected by the conversion of the right-ofway to a trail, CART has a sufficient stake in the outcome of the instant case to give it Article III standing. See State of Idaho By refusal to consider any environmental, contamination, or human hazard facts relating to the implementation and consequences of trail use, was contrary to NEPA requirements and was arbitrary and capricious. Because, CART continues, the requirements and policies of the Trails Act mandate that a CITU permit a recreational trail only if the purposes of the Trails Act, set forth at 16 U.S.C. § 1241 (2000), are satisfied, the CITU should be revoked, and the rail line declared abandoned, in view of record evidence that the contamination in the right-of-way is a human health hazard. Essentially, then, the court must review the Board's determinations that (1) NEPA is inapplicable to CITU issuance under the Trails Act, and (2) the Trails Act itself does not require an environmental assessment before issuance of the CITU.

The Trails Act, as amended by the National Trails System Act Amendments of 1983, Pub. L. 98-11, 97 Stat. 42, "is the culmination of congressional efforts to preserve shrinking rail trackage by converting unused rights-of-way to recreational trails." Preseault v. I.C.C., 494 U.S. 1, 5 (1990). Under the Trails Act, the Board must "preserve established railroad rights-of-way for future reactivation of rail service" by prohibiting abandonment where, if the railroad is willing to enter into an agreement for trail use, a trail sponsor offers to assume responsibility for management, payment of taxes, and legal liability for the right-of-way and agrees to return the right-of-way should there ever be a proposal to reactivate the line for rail service. See 16 U.S.C. § 1247(d) (2000). If the parties reach agreement, the land may be transferred to the trail operator for interim trail use, subject to Board-imposed terms and conditions; if no agreement is reached, the railroad may abandon the line entirely and liquidate its interests. See Preseault, 494 U.S. at 7. By deeming interim trail use to be like discontinuance rather than abandonment, Congress sought to prevent property interests from reverting to the landowners under state law. See id. at 8.

The provisions of the Trails Act are straightforward. Section 8(d) of the amended Trails Act provides:

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If a State, political subdivision, or qualified private organization is prepared to assume full responsibility for management of such rights-of-way and for any legal liability arising out of such transfer or use, and for the payment of any and all taxes that may be levied or assessed against such rights-of-way, then the Board shall impose such terms and conditions as a requirement of any transfer or conveyance for interim use in a manner consistent with this chapter, and shall not permit abandonment or discontinuance inconsistent or disruptive of such use.

16 U.S.C. § 1247(d). The Board has promulgated regulations requiring sponsors to submit certain documentation describing the site and indicating the user's willingness to assume full responsibility for management, legal liability, and taxes, as well as an acknowledgment of the user's continuing obligation to meet its responsibilities subject to future reactivation of the right-of-way for rail service. See 49 C.F.R. § 1152.29. Upon receipt of such documentation, the Board applies a rebuttable presumption of fitness of a sponsor. See Jost v. Surface Transp. Bd., 194 F.3d 79, 89 (D.C. Cir. 1999). Thus, where the railroad is willing to enter negotiations with the sponsor, the abandonment is deferred and if the parties reach agreement within a certain time, no abandonment can occur until the user terminates trail use in an administrative proceeding; absent an agreement the CITU converts to a notice of abandonment. See Jost, 194 F.3d at 82; Goos v. I.C.C., 911 F.2d 1283, 1286 (8th Cir. 1990).

NEPA generally requires federal agencies to examine the environmental effects of proposed federal actions and to inform the public of the environmental concerns that were considered in the agency's decisionmaking. See Baltimore Gas v. Natural Res. Defense Council, 462 U.S. 87, 97 (1983). Specifically, NEPA requires agencies to prepare an environmental evaluation for all proposals for "major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment." 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C) (1994). NEPA applies to the Board's decisions to allow rail line abandonments. See Idaho, 35 F.3d at 595; 49 C.F.R. § 1105.6(b)(2). On the other hand, the Board has determined that NEPA does not require analysis of the environmental effects of possible interim trail use because the...

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52 practice notes
  • Stand Up for California! v. United States Dep't of Interior, 2:16-cv-02681-AWI-EPG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • August 5, 2021
    ...interim trail use that allowed for recreational use of a railroad right-of-way. Citizens Against Rails-to-Trails v. Surface Transp. Bd., 267 F.3d 1144, 1148-49 (D.C. Cir. 2001); Goos v. I.C.C., 911 F.2d 1283, 1285 (8th Cir. 1990). The relevant statutory provision read in pertinent part as f......
  • Friends of Columbia River v. U.S. Forest Service, Civil No. 04-1332-ST.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Oregon)
    • March 3, 2008
    ...an EIS for an action that is effectively beyond its discretionary control); Citizens Against Rails-to-Trails v. Surface Transp. Bd., 267 F.3d 1144, 1151 (D.C.Cir.2001) (where an agency's role is "merely ministerial, the information that NEPA provides can have no effect on the agency's actio......
  • Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Salazar (In re Polar Bear Endangered Species Act Listing & § 4(d) Rule Litig.), Misc. No. 08–764 (EGS).MDL Docket No. 1993.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • October 17, 2011
    ...to deferential review, however, in interpreting NEPA or its regulations. See Citizens Against Rails–to–Trails v. Surface Transp. Bd., 267 F.3d 1144, 1150 (D.C.Cir.2001) (“Because NEPA's mandate is addressed to all federal agencies, the [Surface Transportation Board's] determination that NEP......
  • Safari Club Int'l v. Jewell, Civil Action Nos. 11–cv–01564 (BAH), 12–cv–00340 (BAH).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • August 9, 2013
    ...to Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J. (“EWA Fed. Defs.' Mem.”), ECF No. 84, at 25 (citing Citizens Against Rails–to–Trails v. Surface Transp. Bd., 267 F.3d 1144, 1151 (D.C.Cir.2001) (explaining that where “the agency does not have sufficient discretion to affect the outcome of its actions, and its rol......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
50 cases
  • Stand Up for California! v. United States Dep't of Interior, 2:16-cv-02681-AWI-EPG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • August 5, 2021
    ...interim trail use that allowed for recreational use of a railroad right-of-way. Citizens Against Rails-to-Trails v. Surface Transp. Bd., 267 F.3d 1144, 1148-49 (D.C. Cir. 2001); Goos v. I.C.C., 911 F.2d 1283, 1285 (8th Cir. 1990). The relevant statutory provision read in pertinent part as f......
  • Friends of Columbia River v. U.S. Forest Service, Civil No. 04-1332-ST.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Oregon)
    • March 3, 2008
    ...an EIS for an action that is effectively beyond its discretionary control); Citizens Against Rails-to-Trails v. Surface Transp. Bd., 267 F.3d 1144, 1151 (D.C.Cir.2001) (where an agency's role is "merely ministerial, the information that NEPA provides can have no effect on the agency's actio......
  • Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Salazar (In re Polar Bear Endangered Species Act Listing & § 4(d) Rule Litig.), Misc. No. 08–764 (EGS).MDL Docket No. 1993.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • October 17, 2011
    ...to deferential review, however, in interpreting NEPA or its regulations. See Citizens Against Rails–to–Trails v. Surface Transp. Bd., 267 F.3d 1144, 1150 (D.C.Cir.2001) (“Because NEPA's mandate is addressed to all federal agencies, the [Surface Transportation Board's] determination that NEP......
  • Safari Club Int'l v. Jewell, Civil Action Nos. 11–cv–01564 (BAH), 12–cv–00340 (BAH).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • August 9, 2013
    ...to Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J. (“EWA Fed. Defs.' Mem.”), ECF No. 84, at 25 (citing Citizens Against Rails–to–Trails v. Surface Transp. Bd., 267 F.3d 1144, 1151 (D.C.Cir.2001) (explaining that where “the agency does not have sufficient discretion to affect the outcome of its actions, and its rol......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • NEPA's Trajectory: Our Waning Environmental Charter From Nixon to Trump?
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Reporter Nbr. 50-5, May 2020
    • May 1, 2020
    ...agencies need not prepare an EIS for activities beyond their control. See also Citizens Against Rails-to-Trails v. Surface Transp. Bd., 267 F.3d 1144, 1151, 32 ELR 20304 (D.C. Cir. 2001). 45. Metropolitan Edison Co. v. People Against Nuclear Energy, 460 U.S. 766, 13 ELR 20515 (1983). 46. Pe......
  • Administering the National Environmental Policy Act
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Reporter Nbr. 45-4, April 2015
    • April 1, 2015
    ...entitled to Chevron deference in their legal conclusions about NEPA. See e.g. , Citizens Against Rails-to-Trails v. Surface Transp. Bd., 267 F.3d 1144, 1150-51 (D.C. Cir. 2001); American Airlines v. Dep’t of Transp., 202 F.3d 788, 803 (5th Cir. 2000); American Forest & Paper Ass’n v. U.S. F......

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