The opinion of the court was delivered by: Roberts, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs brought this action alleging that defendants
violated the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"),
42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq. (1994), and the Administrative Procedure
Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701-706, by filing an inadequate Final
Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement ("FEIS")
and by failing to address properly the environmental impact of
oil and gas development in a portion of the National Petroleum
planning area in Alaska ("NPR-A").*fn1 Defendants move to
transfer this case to the District of Alaska pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1404. The State of Alaska ("Alaska") and the Arctic
Slope Regional Corporation ("ASRC")*fn2 move to intervene.
Because the balance of interests does not favor transfer,
defendants' motion will be denied. Consistent with this Circuit's
liberal approach to intervention, the motions to intervene will
I. Motion to Transfer Venue
Defendants contend that, although venue is proper here, this
case should be transferred to Alaska pursuant
28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). That section provides that "[f]or the convenience of
parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district
court may transfer any civil action to any other district or
division where it might have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).
When a genuine choice of venue exists,*fn3 the decision to
transfer must be made "according to an `individualized,
case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness.'"
Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29, 108 S.Ct.
2239, 101 L.Ed.2d 22 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack,
376 U.S. 612, 622, 84 S.Ct. 805, 11 L.Ed.2d 945 (1964)). In
exercising its broad discretion under section 1404(a), the court
must balance a number of case-specific factors which include the
private interests of the parties as well as public interests such
as efficiency and fairness. See id. at 30, 108 S.Ct. 2239. In
The private interest considerations include: (1) the
plaintiffs' choice of forum, unless the balance of
convenience is strongly in favor of the defendants;
(2) the defendants' choice of forum; (3) whether the
claim arose elsewhere; (4) the convenience of the
parties; (5) the convenience of the witnesses . . .,
but only to the extent that the witnesses may
actually be unavailable for trial in one of the fora;
and (6) the ease of access to sources of proof. The
public interest considerations include: (1) the
transferee's familiarity with the governing laws; (2)
the relative congestion of the calendars of the
potential transferee and transferor courts; and (3)
the local interest in deciding local controversies at
Trout Unlimited v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 944 F. Supp. 13, 16
(D.D.C. 1996) (footnotes omitted).
B. Private Interest Considerations
1. Plaintiff's Choice of Forum
It is settled that a case should not be transferred "from a
plaintiff's chosen forum simply because another forum, in the
court's view, may be superior to that chosen by the plaintiff."
Pain v. United Technologies Corp., 637 F.2d 775, 783 (D.C.Cir.
1980). Absent specific facts that would cause a district court to
question plaintiffs' choice of forum, plaintiffs' choice is
afforded substantial deference. See Shapiro, Lifschitz & Schram,
P.C. v. Hazard, 24 F. Supp.2d 66, 71 (D.D.C. 1998) (citing Int'l
Bhd. of Painters and Allied Trades Union v. Best Painting and
Co., 621 F. Supp. 906, 907 (D.D.C. 1985); Gross v. Owen,
221 F.2d 94, 95 (D.C.Cir. 1955)). Likewise, "[i]n weighing claims of
convenience, the Court recognizes the diminished consideration
accorded to a plaintiff's choice of forum where . . . that forum
has no meaningful ties to the controversy and no particular
interest in the parties or subject matter." Islamic Republic of
Iran v. Boeing Co., 477 F. Supp. 142, 144 (D.D.C. 1979); see
also Hawksbill Sea Turtle v. FEMA, 939 F. Supp. 1, 3 (D.D.C.
1996) (noting that plaintiff's choice of forum is entitled to
less deference when there is "an insubstantial factual nexus with
the plaintiff's choice") (internal citations omitted); Trout
Unlimited, 944 F. Supp. at 17; Armco Steel Co. v. CSX Corp.,
790 F. Supp. 311, 323 (D.D.C. 1991) ("[D]eference is `greatly
diminished when the activities have little, if any, connection
with the chosen forum'") (quoting Consolidated Metal Products,
Inc. v. American Petroleum Inst., 569 F. Supp. 773, 775 (D.D.C.
1983)); Citizen Advocates for Responsible Expansion, Inc. v.
Dole, 561 F. Supp. 1238, 1239 (D.D.C. 1983) (deference to
plaintiffs' choice is diminished when "transfer is sought to the
forum where plaintiffs reside . . . and the connection between
plaintiffs, the controversy and the chosen forum is
attenuated."). The degree of deference accorded to these
plaintiffs' choice of forum therefore depends upon the nexus
between plaintiffs' chosen forum — the District of Columbia — and
the dispute over the Department of Interior's ("DOI") decision to
commence oil and gas leasing in the NPR-A.
Defendants argue that "this case has no meaningful connection
to the District of Columbia." (Defs.' Mem.Supp. Transfer at
12-13.) Because the specific lands at issue are in Alaska, the
management of those lands are governed by federal statutes unique
to Alaska and the NPR-A planning effort was undertaken in Alaska,
defendants claim that Alaska is a more appropriate venue for this
lawsuit. Defendants also note that the extensive eighteen-month
administrative process that led to the FEIS for the NPR-A was
conducted almost entirely in Alaska, and the FEIS was prepared in
Alaska. (Id. at 5, 9.) DOI's Bureau of Land Management and
Minerals Management Service offices in Alaska were responsible
for the DOI's environmental assessment. (Id. at 9.) Those
offices consulted with federal and State of Alaska resource
agencies, municipal governments on the Northern Slope of Alaska,
and Alaska Native organizations. (Id. at 5.) In addition to
focusing on the process, Defendants argue that the case should be
transferred to Alaska because the environment and the communities
affected by Secretary Babbitt's disputed decision are in Alaska.
(Id. at 11.)
While this case does present a controversy that will have an
impact on the residents of Alaska, plaintiffs argue that the
future of oil and gas leasing in the NPR-A is not an isolated,
local environmental issue. Plaintiffs convincingly characterize
the NPR-A as a national resource and argue that the DOI's
decision to commence oil and gas leasing in the NPR-A is a
national policy decision determining the use of scarce national
resources. In deciding to transfer to Colorado an environmental
dispute over the granting of a private easement for continued
operation of a reservoir on public land, the court in Trout
Unlimited noted that "[i]mportantly, the people who are
concerned about the easement's potentially negative impact upon
wildlife are located in Colorado." Trout Unlimited, 944 F. Supp.
at 17. In the case of the NPR-A, by contrast, the land at issue
has consistently been treated as a national resource despite the
special interest of the Alaskan people. For instance, when
Congress transferred management of the NPR-A to the Secretary of
the Interior in 1976, it was to ensure that the reserve would "be
regulated in a manner consistent with the total energy needs of
the Nation." Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act, Pub.L. No.
94-258, 90 Stat. 303 (1976).
Defendants also contend that "the only connecting factor
between the District of Columbia and this case is that the
District is the location of the statutory home of DOI and the
location of the Secretary." (Defs.' Mem.Supp. Transfer at 13.)
However, the connection appears to be more substantial than that.
Secretary Babbitt's involvement in the DOI's review of the impact
of oil and gas leasing on the environment in the NPR-A was far
from routine. He made a six-day visit to the area, and met with
and was briefed by local Inupiaq Eskimo residents, government and
industry officials, and scientists. NPR-A Planning Team, BLM,
NPR-A Update, Issue 3, Aug. 1997 at 1 (Pls.' Opp'n, Ex. D.) The
DOI literature covering the event reported Secretary Babbitt to
have said that he would prevent leasing if the environmental
impact study conducted by his department did not support his
general impression that oil and gas development was compatible
with subsistence. Id. at 2. Secretary Babbitt also signed the
Record of Decision in the District of Columbia and briefed the
public on his decision here. See Press Release, News, Babbitt
Presents Biologically Based NPR-A Plan That Balances Protection
for Wildlife Habitat With Oil and Gas Development, Aug. 5, 1998
(Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. F.) Secretary Babbitt's heavy involvement thus
highlights the significance of this issue to the entire nation.
By contrast, the Secretary of the Interior was not directly
involved in the local environmental controversies at issue in
Trout Unlimited and Hawksbill, and all decision-making in
those cases took place outside of the District of Columbia.
Secretary Babbitt's personal involvement is not the only link
between this controversy and the District of Columbia. Two of the
seven policymakers who comprised the DOI's NPR-A policy group
reside here. (Decl. of Gene R. Terland, Defs.' Mem.Supp.
Transfer, Attach. A at ¶ 3.) Because of interest in the NPR-A
outside of Alaska, DOI held a public meeting in Washington, D.C.
to solicit comments on the draft FEIS. While seven of the nine
public meetings were held in Alaska, it is significant that,
according to one of its press releases, DOI held hearings in
Washington, D.C. and San Francisco "because of the national
public interest in this resource issue." Press Release, SLM
Plans San Francisco Public Hearing for Alaska Petroleum Reserve,
Dec. 23, 1997 (Pls.' Opp'n, Ex. E.) The Bureau of Land Management
received 7,000 comments on their draft FEIS from all fifty