Ninth Circuit Rules County and Air District Have Right to Challenge QSA Contracts and that Locals Have Control on Allocating Colorado River Water in Imperial Valley
EL CENTRO – The Ninth Circuit issued an opinion yesterday in People v. Dept. of Interior et al., No. 12-55856, USDC Case No. 09-CV-2233 AJB (PCL). The Ninth Circuit agreed with the County of Imperial (County) and Imperial County Air Pollution Control District (Air District) and ruled that both have standing to challenge the QSA contracts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Clean Air Act.
The Court found that the County and Air District properly pled violations of procedural rules, and NEPA and the Clean Air Act were designed to protect their interests in enforcing environmental standards and land management, and in protecting public health and clean air.
This is an important ruling for the County and Air District, and for other air districts throughout California, including the South Coast Air Quality Management District and others that participated in the appeal as amicus curiae, because it allows these agencies to challenge federal projects that violate state implementation plans under the Clean Air Act’s conformity provision by bringing either enforcement actions or actions under the Administrative Procedure Act.
The Ninth Circuit also ruled that the Secretary of Interior’s control over Colorado River water ends when it is delivered at the dams, and that the Imperial Irrigation District (IID), the County and State – not the Secretary – decide how the water will be allocated.
The Court’s finding acknowledges the County’s right to a “seat at the table” in determining how the water is utilized to protect public health and the economy, and could open the door to new and innovative uses of Colorado River water for the benefit of the Imperial Valley.
This ruling also limits the Secretary’s authority to dictate to local agencies how Colorado River water is allocated and used.
The County and Air District are in the process of evaluating the Ninth Circuit’s opinion and determining options and next steps.