Conservation Congress v. Finley

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: 12-16-2014
  • Case #: 12-16916
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Chief Judge Thomas for the Court; Circuit Judges O'Scannlain and McKeown
  • Full Text Opinion

If a court must determine whether an Environmental Impact Statement, following a consultation under 50 C.F.R. § 420, contains a reasonably thorough discussion of the potential environmental impacts of a project, then it must employ the rule of reason, which is essentially the same standard as abuse of discretion.

The Conservation Congress began this matter against the federal government claiming that it failed to conduct an adequate consultation for the Beaverslide Project according to 50 C.F.R. § 402.16 (“Reinitiation of Formal Consultation” within the Endangered Species Act) and 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2) (“Interagency Cooperation” of the Endangered Species chapter). The Beaverslide Project aims to lower the risk of forest fires and create a long-term timber supply in California. The Conservation Congress claims the project is threatening the population of an endangered species, the Northern Spotted Owl. If a project may affect an endangered species, the acting agency must initiate a formal or informal consultation to more accurately determine the effects of the project on the species. If a formal or informal consultation is conducted, then it must be reinitiated if later information reveals potential effects that were not previously considered. However, not every modification requires a reinitiation. The Conservation Congress claims that the government did not use the “best scientific data” in accordance with 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2). The Ninth Circuit found that reviewing courts must be very deferential in determining whether agencies supported their conclusions with accurate and reliable data and considers all relevant data. Also, the government contended that the Conservation Congress’s notice of intent to sue did not provide sufficient information. The panel ruled that a notice of intent to sue need not be specific about legal arguments, but must put agencies on notice of perceived violations in accordance with the purposes of the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1531. Finally, whether the district court properly granted summary judgment depends on the “rule of reason,” which considers if the Environmental Impact Statement contains a thorough discussion of the potential affects. In other words, the agency must take a “hard look” at the significant environmental aspects. AFFIRMED.

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