CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
Citation693 F. Supp. 821
Decision Date14 April 1988
Docket NumberNo. C-88-0015 EFL.,C-88-0015 EFL.
PartiesThe STATE OF CALIFORNIA, acting By and Through the CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION, Plaintiff, v. J. Curtis MACK, Acting Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Peter Tweedt, Director, Office of Oceanic and Coastal Resource Management; and the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, Defendants.

John A. Saurenman, Deputy Atty. Gen., Los Angeles, Cal., James K. Jackson, American Petroleum Institute, Washington, D.C., for plaintiff.

Charles O'Connor, Asst. U.S. Atty., San Francisco, Cal., Gary Randall, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Lands & Natural Resource Div., Gen. Litigation Section, Washington, D.C. for defendants.


LYNCH, District Judge.

This action is before the Court on plaintiff California Coastal Commission's application for a preliminary injunction. The case presents questions regarding the scope of authority of defendant National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ("NOAA") under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act. Specifically, the issue is whether NOAA exceeded its authority when it conditioned a grant to the California Coastal Commission (the "Commission") on a requirement that the Commission draft and submit for NOAA's approval guidelines pertaining to exploration and development of the Outer Continental Shelf area off the California coast. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants the Commission's application.


In 1972, Congress enacted the Coastal Zone Management Act (the "CZMA" or the "Act"), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1451-1464, in order to encourage and assist states "in preparing and implementing management programs to preserve, protect, develop and whenever possible restore the resources of the coastal zone of the United States." S.Rep. No. 753, 92d Cong., 2d Sess. 1, reprinted in 1972 U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 4776. To this end, the CZMA offers two primary incentives to states that establish qualified coastal zone management plans. First, the federal government provides financial assistance to the programs in the form of grants. See, e.g., 16 U.S.C. §§ 1454, 1455. Second, the CZMA enhances the states' ability to control the use and development of their coastlines by authorizing them to determine whether a proposed activity affecting the coastline will qualify for a federal license. See id. § 1456(c). This procedure is referred to as a "consistency determination": an applicant for a federal license to conduct an activity affecting the coast of a state with an approved coastal management plan must first obtain a certification from the state that the proposed activity is consistent with the coastal plan. Id.

To qualify for the benefits provided under the CZMA, a state must obtain federal approval for its coastal management program. See id. §§ 1454(b), 1454(h), 1456(c). Pursuant to authority delegated from the Secretary of Commerce, NOAA is the federal agency responsible for making approval determinations. In addition, NOAA is responsible for a "continuing review of the performance of coastal states," id. § 1458(a), and is authorized to withdraw program approval under certain circumstances, id. § 1458(d).

In 1976, the Commission submitted the California Coastal Management Plan (the "CCMP") to NOAA for approval. The CCMP consisted of five elements: the Coastal Act of 1976, the Coastal Conservancy Act, the Urban and Coastal Park Bond Act, the Commission's final regulations, and the "Program Description" contained in Part II of the Final Environmental Impact Statement. NOAA approved the CCMP in 1978, but not until after the issue of approvability had been litigated in federal court.

In American Petroleum Institute v. Knecht, 456 F.Supp. 889 (C.D.Cal.1978), aff'd, 609 F.2d 1306 (9th Cir.1979), the central dispute was whether the CCMP lacked "the requisite specificity Congress intended management programs to embody ... so as to enable private users in the coastal zone subject to an approved program to be able to predict with reasonable certainty whether or not their proposed activities will be found `consistent' with the management plan." 456 F.Supp. at 918. The Knecht court agreed with NOAA's position that Congress did not intend a requirement that states "establish such detailed criteria that private users be able to rely on them as predictive devices for determining the fate of projects without interaction between the relevant state agencies and the user." Id. 456 F.Supp. at 919. Accordingly, the court refused to enjoin the approval of the CCMP. Since Knecht, the CCMP has remained largely unchanged, the only difference being the addition, with NOAA's approval, of some "Local Coastal Programs."

As part of its continuing review process, NOAA must periodically analyze "the extent to which the state has implemented and enforced the program approved by the Secretary." 16 U.S.C. § 1458(a). Additionally, if NOAA determines that a coastal state is "failing to make significant improvement in achieving ... coastal management objectives," it must reduce funding to the state. Id. § 1458(c). In accordance with these obligations, NOAA has, on several occasions since 1978, prepared written evaluations of the CCMP and, based on those reports, negotiated with the Commission over targeted areas for "significant improvements." One result of these negotiations has been the drafting of "significant improvement tasks." Accomplishment of these tasks is sometimes a condition to receipt of some portion of the federal grants controlled by NOAA.

The federal financial assistance provided to the Commission is essentially of two types. The bulk of the funding is allocated to basic implementation or administrative operations of the Commission. The remaining portion goes to finance the significant improvement tasks that the Commission is to undertake.

The most recent NOAA review of the CCMP took place in 1987. As in the past, NOAA and the Commission reached agreement on most of the significant improvement tasks the Commission would undertake. They could not agree, however, on one of the tasks proposed by NOAA. NOAA insisted that the Commission prepare and submit for approval guidelines that would provide greater predictability for parties seeking consistency determinations for proposed activities affecting the Outer Continental Shelf. The Commission refused, contending that it would lose necessary flexibility and that the current case-by-case, negotiated process was preferable. In response, NOAA withheld most of the Commission's administrative funding. After the Commission capitulated "under protest," and Congress enacted legislation ordering NOAA to release the Commission's administrative funding, see Pub.L. No. 100-202, 101 Stat. 1329-5 (1987), NOAA issued the grants.

As drafted by NOAA, the financial assistance award is subject to certain conditions. NOAA and the Commission agree that one of those conditions is the accomplishment of "significant improvement task 1.4." Task 1.4 provides in part that:

The Commission will develop guidelines concerning the application of the Coastal Act Chapter 3 policies, including Section 30260, to consistency certifications for OCS Plans of Exploration and Development and Production ... and will adopt such guidelines in accordance with California law. Once the Commission adopts guidelines, it will submit them to OCRM for review and approval as a program change.

NOAA and the Commission apparently do not agree on which funds are conditioned on the accomplishment of Task 1.4. Although NOAA initially withheld most of the adminsitrative grant from the Commission, NOAA now urges that only the money allocated to significant improvement tasks is subject to "deobligation." The Commission maintains that the much larger sum represented by the administrative portion of the assistance is tied to Task 1.4. The language of the relevant "special award condition" appears to support NOAA on this point. Special award condition 6 provides in part that:

NOAA/OCRM reserves the right to deobligate Federal funds from this award in an amount equal to those Federal funds devoted to "significant improvement" tasks in this award or any previous award if NOAA/OCRM finds that the recipient has failed to make satisfactory progress toward significant improvement in accordance with the tasks and benchmarks outlined in the memorandum referenced above, including task 1.4.

The Commission relies for its interpretation on "prefatory language" to special award condition 1. The pertinent language provides that "the following conditions apply to all CCC funding from NOAA...." (Emphasis added). However, the "following conditions" do not include Task 1.4, so the language threatening the loss of "all" funding does not appear relevant to accomplishment of that significant improvement task.

The present posture of the case is that the Commission is in receipt of the federal funds, subject to a number of conditions, one of which is the preparation of guidelines for consistency determinations pertaining to Outer Continental Shelf development. The Commission contends that it was beyond NOAA's authority to impose this condition and asks this Court to enjoin NOAA from enforcing it.


The essence of this dispute boils down to two questions: (1) whether NOAA possesses authority under the CZMA to coerce a modification of a state's previously approved coastal management program through conditions attached to federal funding; and (2) whether NOAA has attempted to exercise such authority by conditioning significant improvement funding on the accomplishment of Task 1.4. The first question appears to be one of first impression, and the answer must therefore be gleaned largely from an examination of the CZMA and NOAA's regulations. The second question turns on a reading of the financial assistance award itself and a determination of the impact of...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT