Golden Gate University Law Review


As a clean-energy leader, California has been rapidly developing clean-energy infrastructure to meet its goal of supplying 33% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The federal government has also been an active participant in this push for a clean-energy future, creating an atmosphere where big projects can thrive on federal land with help from the federal purse. With support from the state and federal governments, large-scale clean-energy projects will become commonplace in the California desert. The Southwest is an ideal place for solar development because of its reliably sunny weather. Unfortunately, the rapid expansion of clean-energy infrastructure has begun to pit clean-energy proponents squarely against conservationists, turning traditional environmental allies against one another. These different groups within the “green” movement have competing visions of how to build the clean-energy future, and this policy disagreement leaves vulnerable the Southwest’s limited natural resources and threatened species.

In Western Watersheds Project v. Salazar, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had the opportunity to weigh in on the clean-energy expansion policy battle. Western Watersheds Project (WWP), a nonprofit conservation group, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleging that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by preparing a deficient Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in order to approve a large-scale solar energy project. WWP requested that the district court preliminarily and permanently enjoin BLM from taking actions to further the project that could alter or change the physical environment, until it complied with NEPA and its implementing regulations. The district court denied WWP’s request for preliminary injunctive relief. On WWP’s appeal, the Ninth Circuit issued a three-paragraph decision, conclusory in its remarks and cursory in its review of the complex issues involved, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in making its decision.

This Note argues that the Ninth Circuit erred in deciding Western Watersheds Project v. Salazar by not finding that the district court abused its discretion in denying WWP’s request for a preliminary injunction.