On Petition for Review of an Order of the Federal Aviation Administration
Before: Ginsburg, Chief Judge, and Edwards and Rogers,
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Edwards, Circuit Judge
This case involves a final order of the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") approving changes to the layout plan for Boston's Logan International Airport (including the construction of a new runway and improvement of existing taxiways) and making certain determinations necessary for the project to be eligible for federal funding under the Airport and Airway Improvement Act, 49 U.S.C. §§ 47101 et seq. ("AAIA"). The order was based, in part, on an environmental impact statement ("EIS") prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4347 ("NEPA").
Petitioners Communities Against Runway Expansion and several trustees of the South Shore Jet Pollution Council Charitable Trust (collectively "CARE") seek review of the FAA order and the EIS. CARE claims that the order violates NEPA and is arbitrary and capricious, because the FAA did not properly select and supervise the contractor who prepared the EIS and failed to make public certain information relevant to the environmental review. CARE further asserts that the order violates the AAIA by failing to certify that the communities in which the project is located were notified of their right to petition the Secretary of Transportation. Finally, CARE contends that the order improperly certifies for AAIA purposes that the project is consistent with local plans and that fair consideration was given to local interests. Intervenor City of Boston claims, in addition, that the "environmental justice" analysis included in the EIS was based on an unreasonable methodology and should be set aside as arbitrary and capricious.
Even assuming that the FAA erred in selecting the EIS contractor, we find no grounds for relief. There is no indication that this putative error compromised the objectivity and integrity of the NEPA review process. CARE's and Boston's remaining claims are meritless. We therefore deny the petition for review.
The AAIA authorizes the FAA to provide federal funding for airport improvement projects and establishes detailed requirements that must be satisfied in order for a project to be eligible for such funding. See 49 U.S.C. §§ 47104-47107 (2000). Airports that seek AAIA funding or have received such funding in the past must, inter alia, maintain a current FAA-approved airport layout plan. 49 U.S.C. § 47107(a)(16).
Where FAA approval of funding for an airport improvement project constitutes a "major Federal action[ ] significantly affecting the quality of the human environment" for purposes of NEPA, the FAA must prepare an EIS analyzing the proposed project's environmental consequences and evaluating reasonable alternatives. See 42 U.S.C. § 4332(C) (2000); see also Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizens Council, 490 U.S. 332, 348-51 (1989) (explaining NEPA process pursuant to which federal agencies must evaluate environmental effects). The FAA's review under NEPA is governed in part by guidelines promulgated by the Council on Environmental Quality ("CEQ"), which are binding on federal agencies. See Found. on Econ. Trends v. Lyng, 817 F.2d 882, 884 n.6 (D.C. Cir. 1987). The project at issue in the instant case is also subject to the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act ("MEPA"), a state-law analog of NEPA that requires Massachusetts state agencies sponsoring qualifying projects to prepare an environmental impact report ("EIR"). See MASS. GEN. LAWS ch. 30, §§ 62A, 62B.
Logan International Airport is owned and operated by the Massachusetts Port Authority ("Massport"), a Massachusetts state agency for MEPA purposes. The airport is located near the center of downtown Boston and is surrounded on three sides by densely populated residential neighborhoods. Logan is one of the Nation's busiest airports, ranking 18th in volume of passenger traffic and 11th in number of aircraft operations during the year 2000. It is also one of the most delay-prone: In 2000, Logan was the sixth worst airport in the country in arrival and departure delays, and it was second worst in arrival delays.
In 1993, Massport and the FAA began to study options for addressing flight delays at Logan Airport. Various options were considered, including the construction of a new eastwest runway designated "Runway 14/32," construction of a new "Centerfield Taxiway," and improvement of several existing taxiways. In 1995, the FAA and Massport initiated the environmental review process required under federal and state laws to assess the impacts of different options. Because the FAA's obligations under NEPA were similar to those of Massport under MEPA, the two agencies agreed to prepare a joint EIS/EIR. See 40 C.F.R. § 1506.2(c) (2003) (authorizing joint federal-state environmental review). In July of 1996, Massport contracted with the consulting firm of Simat, Helliesen & Eichner, Inc. ("SH&E") to prepare the EIS/EIR.
In February 1999, the FAA and Massport issued a draft EIS/EIR for public review and comment. In response to public concerns, the FAA opted to prepare a Supplemental Draft EIS ("SDEIS") to address certain issues, and the FAA and Massport jointly published the SDEIS/Final EIR in March 2001. The SDEIS grouped the options under consideration into five alternatives, including a "No Action" alternative, and endorsed the "Preferred Alternative," which called for construction of Runway 14/32 and the Centerfield Taxiway, as well as improvements to certain existing taxiways. See Final Envt'l Impact Statement, Logan Airside Improvements Planning Project, Boston Logan Int'l Airport (June 2002) ("FEIS"), at 1-31, reprinted in Joint Appendix ("J.A.") 672.
As part of its review of the SDEIS, the FAA contracted with the MITRE Corporation's Center for Advanced Aviation System Development ("MITRE") to conduct an independent analysis of predicted runway utilization and capacity and delay modeling in the SDEIS. MITRE's final report generally confirmed the reasonableness of the SDEIS's assumptions and predictions, but concluded that the predicted delay savings attributable to Runway 14/32 were overstated. However, MITRE concluded that "the savings are still substantial under almost any reasonable long term traffic forecast." FEIS Appendix J at 4, J.A. 1110.
In June of 2002, the FAA issued the Final EIS for the project. The FEIS summarized and incorporated information from the SDEIS and endorsed the Preferred Alternative. See FEIS at 1-32, J.A. 673. Taking account of the MITRE report, the FEIS concluded that construction of Runway 14/32 would reduce predicted future delays by 21% to 28% in comparison with the No Action alternative. Id. at 1-38 - 1-42, J.A. 679-83. The FEIS predicted that the Preferred Alternative would reduce the number of people exposed to the highest levels of noise relative to the No Action alternative, but would slightly increase the number of people exposed to significant noise levels under one potential scenario. Noise impacts would be more evenly distributed among surrounding neighborhoods and nighttime noise would be reduced. Id. at 2-13 - 2-19, J.A. 696-700. The FEIS ...