Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Medina County Environmental v. Surface Transportation Board

Apr 6: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, Case No. 09-60108. The Appeals Court explains that the petitioner, the Medina County Environmental Action Association (MCEAA), sought review of a Construction and Operation Exemption Decision (the Decision) entered by one of the respondents, the Surface Transportation Board (STB). The Decision granted an exemption under 49 U.S.C. § 10502 that allows the intervenor, Southwest Gulf Railroad Co. (SGR), to construct and operate a seven-mile rail line and rail loading loop to service a proposed limestone quarry in Medina County, Texas, without meeting the prior approval requirements imposed by 49 U.S.C. § 10901.
    MCEAA petitioned the court directly for review of the Decision. At issue is whether the STB and the second respondent, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), complied with their obligations under § 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to ensure that the proposed rail was "not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species" before approving the exemption. 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2). Specifically, MCEAA challenges the respondents' finding that the proposed rail and its "cumulative effects" are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler, which is known to exist in Medina County, and of certain endangered karst invertebrates, which are known to exist in neighboring Bexar County.
    The Appeals Court denied MCEAA's petition for review of the Decision and also denied a separate motion to supplement the administrative record. The Appeals Court ruled, "The information that MCEAA urges from the proffered documents can be reduced to a simple proposition: When the golden-cheeked warbler's habitat is marginalized or destroyed by what MCEAA refers to as the 'edge effects' of development -- for example, land clearing, noise, lighting, and vibration -- the warbler will move, if possible, to an area where the habitat is better. All of the survey evidence available to the STB and FWS, however, showed that there were no listed species in the proposed rail and Phase One area -- rendering any analysis of whether the rail line and quarry activities would drive them out of that area superfluous.
    "Furthermore, the EIS documents discussed the quality and extent of potential habitat in the proposed rail and Phase One areas and gave extensive consideration to how construction and operations could proceed while best preserving the small amount of 'low quality' habitat present in the Phase One area. The documents with which MCEAA proposes to supplement the administrative record do not contain information potentially adverse to the Decision and do not set out additional factors that the STB and FWS failed to consider. Accordingly, we deny the motion to supplement the administrative record."
    Access the complete opinion (click here).

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