NEPA ruling blocks California mineral exploration

By Hannah Northey | 05/22/2024 01:48 PM EDT

The 9th Circuit decision for the first time eliminates a path for agencies to avoid deeper environmental review.

The Inyo National Forest.

The Inyo National Forest includes parts of the eastern Sierra Nevada in California. daves_archive _inactive at current time/Flickr

A federal appeals court on Tuesday officially voided the government’s approval of a proposal to conduct exploratory drilling for gold on public lands in California’s Sierra Nevada — a move that some legal experts say could have implications for other battles over environmental reviews.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision reversed a lower court ruling and tossed out the Forest Service’s 2021 approval of Canada-based Kore Mining’s plan to drill, build roads and disturb the ground in the Inyo National Forest in the Sierra Nevada. Environmental groups fighting the project warned it would threaten an endangered fish and a vulnerable greater sage grouse population.

Judges Lucy Koh and Roopali Desai, both Biden appointees, found the agency had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by relying on two categorical exclusions for a single project to avoid environmental reviews.


“The Forest Service failed to prepare either an [environmental impact statement] or an [environmental assessment] for the project. And its proffered reason for doing so — that it could combine two [categorical exclusions] to approve a project that no single exclusion could cover — is unpersuasive as a matter of law,” Desai wrote for the majority.