Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in California Sea Urchin Commission v. Combs (Combs), Docket No. 17-1636, an appeal from a Ninth Circuit decision regarding endangered Southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) and deference to the decisions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). As we reported here last month, the case was seen as a potential vehicle for the Court to take up the broader issue of Chevron deference, the legal doctrine that requires courts to defer to an agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous statute so long as that interpretation is ...
As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares for its upcoming October 2018 term, one petition concerning an endangered sea otter relocation program is attracting a lot of attention as a potential vehicle for the Court to consider the broader issue of Chevron deference, the legal doctrine that requires courts to defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute. The petition has also created odd bedfellows, as the Department of Justice under the Trump Administration finds itself arguing alongside several national environmental non-profit organizations that the ...
On July 9, 2018, President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to replace retiring Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court. While much of the public discourse about Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination has focused on hot-button issues like abortion and the Second Amendment, the addition of Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court could also have significant effects on a range of environmental laws and regulations, including the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
One of Judge Kavanaugh’s most well-known environmental opinions is from Otay Mesa Property, L.P. v. Interior, 646 F.3d 914 (D.C. Cir. 2011). In Otay Mesa, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) had observed four endangered San Diego fairy shrimp (Branchinecta sandiegonensis) in one location on a dirt road on the plaintiffs’ 143-acre property. Based on that single observation, the Service designated the plaintiffs’ property as occupied habitat for purposes of its critical habitat designation under the ESA. The D.C. Circuit held that substantial evidence did not support the Service’s designation of critical habitat for the San Diego fairy shrimp. Judge Kavanaugh explained that while the Service may protect areas outside of the geographic range occupied by an ESA-protected species as essential to the species’ conservation, it had instead asserted that this was occupied habitat for the fairy shrimp. Judge Kavanaugh found that a single observation of a species did not provide sufficient evidence that the area was occupied habitat. And while the Service was under no requirement to continue looking for the endangered shrimp, Judge Kavanaugh noted that the lack of such an obligation is not the same as an authorization to act without data to support its conclusions. 646 F.3d at 918. This opinion suggests that Judge Kavanaugh is likely to narrowly interpret the provisions of the ESA.
Similarly, Justice Kavanaugh’s position on Chevron deference may have wide ranging consequences for environmental statutes, including the ESA.
On January 22, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court granted review of the petition for writ of certiorari in Weyerhauser Co. v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, No. 17-71. Petitioners challenge a 2-1 panel decision issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, affirming a rule issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) designating critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog (Rana sevosa) and including areas within critical habitat that the frog could not currently inhabit.
The dusky gopher frog spends most of its life underground in open-canopied pine forests. ...
On November 17, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition for writ of certiorari filed by Glenn Colusa Irrigation District and others seeking to overturn a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (en banc) holding that the Bureau of Reclamation’s decision to renew water contracts with senior water rights holders is subject to consultation under section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act. Our prior post regarding the petition is available here.
E&E reporter Jeremy Jacobs wrote in Greenwire today that the Supreme Court "left in place an ...
Nossaman’s Endangered Species Law & Policy blog focuses on news, events, and policies affecting endangered species issues in California and throughout the United States. Topics include listing and critical habitat decisions, conservation and recovery planning, inter-agency consultation, and related developments in law, policy, and science. We also inform readers about regulatory and legislative developments, as well as key court decisions.
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