Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Environmental groups appeal ICC ruling

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Environmental groups are appealing a federal judge’s ruling in a case that they hope will block construction of the Intercounty Connector highway.

Environmental Defense and Sierra Club filed separate notices of appeal on Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth District in Richmond, Va.

On Tuesday, representatives of the groups acknowledged the case could take months to work its way through the courts. Meanwhile, construction has begun on the $2.4 billion, 18-mile highway that will connect Gaithersburg and Laurel.

‘‘Our goal remains the same,” said Michael Replogle, transportation director for Environmental Defense, ‘‘that a road like this should not proceed without doing adequate air pollution monitoring to look at levels of air pollution close to the road and to provide protection for people living, working and going to school in these areas.”

The Audubon Naturalist Society joined Environmental Defense and the Sierra Club in the original lawsuit, whigh said federal agencies failed to address the ICC’s impact on air pollution and public health when they approved the project.

In November, U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr. said the groups did not demonstrate that federal agencies acted arbitrarily or capriciously in approving the road.

‘‘There is no legal or equitable basis to prevent the Inter-County Connector from moving forward,” Williams wrote.

Environmental Defense is basing its appeal on the federal Clean Air Act, which outlines requirements for monitoring how a new road project could affect air quality.

Williams ‘‘gave deference” to the Federal Highway Administration and Environmental Protection Agency’s opinion that the highway would not violate clean air standards, Replogle said.

Environmental Defense argued that the air pollution monitoring done by the federal government was flawed.

Sierra Club is basing its appeal on the National Environmental Policy Act, which addresses broader issues such as a project’s effect on climate change and induced traffic and development growth.