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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS: Before this court is the joint decision of two government agencies not to conduct a full-scale environmental impact study of the environmental effects of a proposal to use a pre-existing pipeline to transport gasoline and other petroleum products across the state of Texas. The government agencies did perform an initial environmental assessment but declined to engage in any further studies after concluding that the environmental impact of the proposed use of the pipeline would not be significant. The petitioners consist of a variety of Texas cities and governmental entities strongly opposed to the proposed use of this particular pipeline. They urged the district court �� and they now urge this court �� to order the government agencies to proceed with a full fledged environmental impact study, contending that the agencies’ finding of no significant environmental impact was arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law. The district court upheld the conclusion of the government agencies. HOLDING: Affirmed. NEPA-related decisions are accorded a considerable degree of deference. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that in reviewing agency decisions involving alleged violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, courts are to uphold the agency’s decision unless the decision is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” Marsh v. Oregon National Res. Council, 490 U.S. 360 (1989). Under this “highly deferential” standard, a reviewing court has the “least latitude in finding grounds for reversal” of an agency decision and “may not substitute its judgment for that of the agency.” Sabine River Authority v. U.S. Dept. of Interior, 951 F.2d 669 (5th Cir. 1993). With respect to this case, the court’s deferential role as a reviewing court is limited to ensuring that the lead agencies took a “hard look” at the environmental consequences; the court cannot interject itself within the area of discretion of the agencies as to the ultimate choice of the action to be taken. Even if the court was convinced that the Collins plaintiffs’ experts were more persuasive than those relied upon by the lead agencies, the court would still uphold the lead agencies’ finding so long as their experts were qualified and their opinions reasonable. There is no evidence here that the lead agencies’ experts are unqualified, nor do their opinions seem unreasonable. The Collins plaintiffs’ experts point to a number of specific flaws they claim exist in the lead agencies’ fact-finding or conclusions. These include allegations that the lead agencies should have conducted more comprehensive studies than they chose to do, that they utilized inaccurate and misleading statistical methodology in analyzing the risks of pipeline leakage, that they ignored or finessed the implications of key findings by the lead agencies’ own experts in many instances, and that they inappropriately deferred to Longhorn for data and then relied uncritically upon it. Unsurprisingly, the lead agencies and Longhorn take issue with each of these assertions, answering each point-by-point in their briefs. It seems clear that whatever the merits of the Collins plaintiffs’ arguments that the lead agencies’ decision-making process was less than perfect, it was not unreasonable. Instead, the dispute between the Collins plaintiffs and the defendants here is best classified as a classic battle of the experts, with each party asserting that their analysis is more reasonable than the other’s. Under the highly deferential standard afforded to agencies pursuant to NEPA, however, it is not the job of the federal courts to intervene in this fight. The agencies have made their decision. It was not arbitrary and capricious. OPINION: Jolly, J.; Jolly, Smith and Garza, JJ.

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