Jan 122015
 

Earlier

Thursday, Jan. 8 - The justices will consider whether to grant the writ of certiorari at a conference on Friday, Jan. 9. Their decision will be announced Monday.

See SCOTUSBlog for briefs and this L.A. Times article by David Savage for background.

The Ninth Circuit opinion petitioners want reviewed is here.

The summary of that Ninth Circuit opinion (which does not constitute any portion of the court's ruling) is below.

The panel reversed in part and affirmed in part the district
court’s judgment invalidating a 2008 biological opinion by
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that concluded that the
Central Valley and State Water Projects jeopardized the
continued existence of the delta smelt and its habitat.

The Central Valley Project and the State Water Project,
operated respectively by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and
the State of California, supply water originating in northern
California to agricultural and domestic consumers in central
and southern California. The source of the water—the
estuary at the confluence of the San Francisco Bay and the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta—is the lone habitat for the
delta smelt, a threatened species under the Endangered
Species Act (“ESA”). After the Bureau of Reclamation
requested a biological opinion (“BiOp”), the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service (“FWS”) concluded that the Central Valley
operations would threaten the delta smelt and, as required by
the ESA, proposed alternatives to ameliorate the effect on the
smelt, including reducing the water exported to southern
California. The plaintiffs-appellees—various water districts,
water contractors, and agricultural consumers—brought suit
under the Administrative Procedure Act against various
federal defendants. The district court concluded that the 2008
BiOp was arbitrary and capricious.

Concerning the scope of the record, the panel held that the
district court overstepped its bounds in admitting additional
declarations from the parties’ experts. The panel held that it
would consider the BiOp and evidence submitted by the
parties that the FWS considered in making its decision, and
the testimony of the four experts the district court appointed
pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 706.

Concerning the merits, the panel held that the 2008
BiOp’s reliance on raw salvage figures to set the upper and
lower Old and Middle Rivers flow limits was not arbitrary
and capricious. The panel also held that the 2008 BiOp’s
determination of X2 (the point in the Bay-Delta at which the
salinity is less than two parts per thousand) was not arbitrary
and capricious. The panel further held that the BiOp’s
incidental take statement was not arbitrary and capricious
because it included adequate explanation and support for its
determinations. The panel also held the record supported the
BiOp’s conclusions regarding the indirect effects of project
operations. The panel disagreed with the district court’s
determination that the FWS’s own regulations and the
Administrative Procedure Act required the FWS to explain
that the reasonable and prudent alternatives satisfied 50
C.F.R. § 402.02’s non-jeopardy factors. The panel held that
the FWS’s consideration of these factors could be reasonably
discerned from the record to satisfy any explanation
requirements.

Concerning the cross appeal, the panel held that the FWS
did not violate the ESA by not separating the discretionary
from nondiscretionary actions when it set the environmental
baseline. The panel also held that the Bureau of Reclamation
did not violate the ESA by accepting the 2008 BiOp. The
panel affirmed the district court’s judgment with respect to
the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) claims, and
held: NEPA does not require the FWS to prepare an
Environmental Impact Statement in conjunction with the
issuance of the BiOp; and the Bureau of Reclamation’s
provisional adoption and implementation of the BiOp
triggered its obligation to comply with NEPA. The panel
affirmed the district court’s order remanding to the Bureau of
Reclamation so that it can complete an Environmental Impact
Statement evaluating the effects of its adoption and
implementation of the BiOp.

Eighth Circuit Judge Arnold dissented from Parts III,
IV.A., IV.B, IV.E, and V.B. of the majority opinion, and
concurred in the rest. Judge Arnold would uphold the district
court’s limited admission of evidence outside the
administrative record as relevant to the Old and Middle River
flow limits and determination of X2, and agreed with the
district court that the FWS’s determination as to the flow
prescription and X2 was arbitrary and capricious. Judge
Arnold disagreed with the basis of the district court’s
conclusion that the non-jeopardy elements must be addressed
in the BiOp or administrative record, but would affirm on the
issue. Finally, Judge Arnold believes the district court should
have found the Bureau of Reclamation independently liable
under the ESA for relying on a legally flawed BiOp.
Judge Rawlinson concurred in the bulk of the majority
opinion, but dissented from Part V.C.2. Judge Rawlinson
disagreed only with the rationale and conclusion that the
Bureau of Reclamation’s adoption and implementation of the
BiOp triggered its obligation to comply with NEPA by
preparing an Environmental Impact Statement that is
generally required under the ESA.

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