Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Center For Biological Diversity v. U.S. BLM

Oct 22: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case Nos. 10-72356, 10-72552, 10-72762, 10-72768, & 10-72775. On Petition for Review of Orders of the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
    The Appeals Court explains that the case concerns a decision by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to authorize the Ruby Pipeline Project (Project). The Project involves the construction, operation, and maintenance of a 42-inch-diameter natural gas pipeline extending from Wyoming to Oregon, over 678 miles. The right-of-way for the pipeline encompasses approximately 2,291 acres of Federal lands and crosses 209 rivers and streams that support Federally endangered and threatened fish species. According to a Biological Opinion (the Biological Opinion or the Opinion) formulated by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the project 'would adversely affect' nine of those species and five designated critical habitats. The FWS nonetheless concluded that the project 'would not jeopardize these species or adversely modify their critical habitat.' The propriety of the FWS's 'no jeopardy' conclusion, and the BLM's reliance on that conclusion in issuing its Record of Decision, are at the heart of this case."
    The opinion addresses those challenges to the Project that petitioners Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife et al., and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe have raised under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq. Specifically, the Appeals Court resolves petitioners' claims that the Biological Opinion and its accompanying Incidental Take Statement were arbitrary and capricious because: (1) the Biological Opinion's "no jeopardy" and "no adverse modification" determinations relied on protective measures set forth in a conservation plan not enforceable under the ESA; (2) the Biological Opinion did not take into account the potential impacts of withdrawing 337.8 million gallons of groundwater from sixty-four wells along the pipeline; (3) the Incidental Take Statement miscalculated the number of fish to be killed, by using a "dry-ditch construction method" for water crossings; and (4) the Incidental Take Statement placed no limit on the number of "eggs and fry" of threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout to be taken during construction.
    The Appeals Court concludes, "We agree with the first two contentions and so set aside the Biological Opinion as arbitrary and capricious. We also set aside the Record of Decision, as it relied on the invalid Biological Opinion." Further, the Appeals Court rules, ". . .we vacate the FWS's Biological Opinion and remand for the agency to formulate a revised Biological Opinion that: (1) addresses the impacts, if any, of Ruby's groundwater withdrawals on listed fish species and critical habitat; and (2) categorizes and treats the Conservation Action Plan measures as 'interrelated actions' or excludes any reliance on their beneficial effects in making a revised jeopardy and adverse modification. We otherwise deny the petition as to the issues discussed in this opinion. We also vacate and remand the BLM's Record of Decision."
    Amy Atwood, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said, "We wish the Ruby pipeline had never been built, but since it was, it's crucial that everything possible is done to minimize harm to the endangered fish that live along its route. With this victory, these rare fish will be better protected, and the public won't have to bear the whole cost of the pipeline's destructive impacts."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). Access a release from CBD (click here). [#Energy/Pipeline, #Wildlife, #CA9]
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