Monday, June 21, 2010

Supreme Court Decides Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms

Jun 21: The U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, Docket No. 09-475 [See WIMS 4/27/10]. In this case, after finding a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the district court imposed, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed [See WIMS 7/2/09], a permanent nationwide injunction against any further planting of a valuable genetically engineered crop, despite overwhelming evidence that less restrictive measures proposed by an expert Federal agency would eliminate any non-trivial risk of harm. In a 7-1 decision the High Court reversed and remanded the decision of the Appeals Court. The decision was written by Justice Alito and joined by Justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg and Sotomayor. Justice Stevens filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Breyer took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
    The opening of the opinion indicates, "This case arises out of a decision by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to deregulate a variety of genetically engineered alfalfa. The District Court held that APHIS violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 83 Stat. 852, 42 U. S. C. §4321 et seq., by issuing its deregulation decision without first completing a detailed assessment of the environmental consequences of its proposed course of action. To remedy that violation, the District Court vacated the agency's decision completely deregulating the alfalfa variety in question; ordered APHIS not to act on the deregulation petition in whole or in part until it had completed a detailed environmental review; and enjoined almost all future planting of the genetically engineered alfalfa pending the completion of that review. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's entry of permanent injunctive relief. The main issue now in dispute concerns the breadth of that relief. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse and remand for further proceedings."
    In a summary of its opinion, the Supreme Court ruled, "In sum, the District Court abused its discretion in enjoining APHIS from effecting a partial deregulation and in prohibiting the possibility of planting in accordance with the terms of such a deregulation. Given those errors, this Court need not express any view on whether injunctive relief of some kind was available to respondents on the record before us. Nor does the Court address the question whether the District Court was required to conduct an evidentiary hearing before entering the relief at issue here. The judgment of the Ninth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

 In his dissent, Justice Stevens said, "The Court does not dispute the District Court's critical findings of fact: First, Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA) can contaminate other plants. . . Second, even planting in a controlled setting had led to contamination in some instances. . . Third, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has limited ability to monitor or enforce limitations on planting. . . And fourth, genetic contamination from RRA could decimate farmers' livelihoods and the American alfalfa market for years to come. . . Instead, the majority faults the District Court for 'enjoining APHIS from partially deregulating RRA.' In my view, the District Court may not have actually ordered such relief, and we should not so readily assume that it did. Regardless, the District Court did not abuse its discretion when, after considering the voluminous record and making the aforementioned findings, it issued the order now before us."

     Access the complete opinion (click here). Access an overview of the decision and links to more information from the SCOTUS blog (click here). Access the Supreme Court docket (click here). Access the oral argument transcript (click here). Access the Monsanto SCOTUSwiki page for links to all merit and amicus briefs, background, previews, media reports and more (click here).

Biodiversity Conservation Alliance v. Bureau of Land Management

Jun 18: In the U.S Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, Case No. 09-8011. In this appeal, several environmental and citizens' groups challenge a 2003 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) resource management plan amendment allowing natural gas development in Wyoming's Powder River Basin. The groups argue that the Bureau violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it refused to study in detail their proposal to phase development in the Basin over decades.
    The district court held that the Bureau adequately considered their suggested alternative. The Appeals Court affirmed the decision and said, "The Bureau reasonably refused to give detailed study to a plan that would not meet the project's purposes. . .
the Bureau reasonably concluded that phased development was impractical and would not meet the project's purposes. This ground is an adequate basis for the Bureau's decision. We therefore decline to review any of the Bureau's other reasons for excluding phased development from further study."
    Access the complete opinion (click here).

Te-Moak Tribe Of Western v. U.S. DOE

Jun 18: In the U.S Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 07-16336. Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone of Nevada, a Federally-recognized Indian tribe (the Tribe), the Western Shoshone Defense Project (WSDP), and Great Basin Mine Watch (GBMW) (collectively,Plaintiffs) appeal the district court's denial of their motion for summary judgment, and the grant of summary judgment to the Department of the Interior (DOI), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), several officers of the BLM, and intervenor Cortez Gold Mines, Inc. (Cortez) (collectively, Defendants). Plaintiffs contend that the BLM's approval of Cortez's amendment to a plan of operations for an existing mineral exploration project in Nevada violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA).
    Under the original Horse Canyon/Cortez Unified Exploration Project (the HC/CUEP) for mineral exploration, Cortez was permitted to disturb a total of 50 acres of land within the entire project area over the course of all three phases of the project. In July 2003, Cortez proposed an amendment to the HC/CUEP plan of operations (the Amendment) that would permit Cortez to disturb a total of 250 acres throughout the project area -- five times the amount approved by the BLM for the original project.
    In summary, the Appeals Court affirmed the district court with respect to Plaintiffs' NHPA and FLPMA claims, and reversed and remand for further proceedings with respect to one of their NEPA claims. The Appeals Court said, "Because the BLM approved the Amendment to the HC/CUEP in violation of NEPA, we reverse the district court's award of summary judgment to Defendants and remand to the district court so that it may enter summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs on their NEPA claim and remand the matter to the BLM for further proceedings. On the NHPA and FLPMA claims, we affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment to Defendants. "
    Access the complete opinion (click here).