Marquette County Road Commission v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA can’t escape judicial review of decision to veto a local road

Cases > Property Rights > Marquette County Road Commission v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Case Status: Lost: Supreme Court denied cert petition March 4, 2019, case closed

Marquette County, Michigan, is home to the nation’s only nickel mine, and though the nearest refinery is 22 miles away, the only route available is three times as long and goes through the city of Marquette and a university campus. The Marquette County Road Commission, led by Jim Iwanicki (pictured), proposed a new direct road that would shave 30 miles one-way—1.5 million miles per year—bypass the city altogether, and save 500,000 gallons of fuel per year. Though the state approved the plan, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) vetoed it with only vague objections and then refused to defend its veto in court. The Road Commission asked the Supreme Court to review the EPA’s decision, under two precedents that affirm that the EPA can’t escape judicial review. On March 4, 2019, the High Court denied the petition for review.

Marquette County is Michigan’s largest county when it comes to land area, stretching along the Lake Superior shoreline down through the middle of the Mitten State’s Upper Peninsula. Tourists and residents alike flock to the lakeshore in summer, the snowmobile trails in winter, and the forests for stunning fall colors.

In the port city of Marquette, shops, restaurants, and breweries, along with Northern Michigan University, make for a bustling city all year round.

The county also boasts the nation’s only nickel mine. Eagle’s Mine came online in recent years and is expected to bring an estimated $4 billion in economic activity to Marquette County.

There’s one big problem. The nearest refinery to the mine is 22 miles away, but the only available route forces ore haulers to travel three times as far. Worse, the route takes processions of large trucks—weighing in at 164,000 pounds each—rumbling through the busy streets of Marquette, including the university campus.

The Marquette County Road Commission proposed a new, shorter road directly from the mine to the refinery. The new route would bypass the city altogether, shave off nearly 30 miles of travel—1.5 million miles per year—and save 500,000 gallons of fuel per year.

State legislators and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality approved this project. The folks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula want and need it. The EPA, however, vetoed the plan, offering only vague and arbitrary objections to the permit application.

The Road Commission went to court, but the EPA refused to defend its actions, saying its objections were beyond question. The agency said instead that if the county wanted the road badly enough, it should start the permitting process all over again—at a taxpayer cost of $271,000 and years of time to win approval for a road that was already approved.

It’s bad enough that the EPA is squelching safety and economic growth. But the agency’s refusal to explain itself flies in the face of Supreme Court rulings in Hawkes (2016) and Sackett (2012), which affirmed the right to challenge EPA decisions in court.

On March 4, 2019, the Supreme Court denied a request by the Road Commission to review the EPA’s actions.

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What’s at stake?

  • When the EPA makes it clear that it will not approve a project under any circumstances, the unresolved objection must be considered a “final agency action” for the purpose of challenging the refusal in court.
  • EPA’s inflexible position puts public safety and sensible local planning at risk; PLF will not allow federal regulators to escape judicial review when they overreach.

Case Timeline

AC Brief - Southeastern Legal Foundation

November 28, 2018 Download

AC Brief - County Road Assoc. of Michigan

November 28, 2018 Download

Cert. Petition

October 25, 2018 Download

Marquette County Road Commission v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Documents 2-19-17

February 09, 2017 Download

Marquette County Road Commission v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Documents 8-19-16

August 19, 2016 Download

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