NRDC v. Salazar

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: 07-17-2012
  • Case #: 09–17661
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Hug for the Court; District Judge O'Grady; Dissent by Circuit Judge Paez
  • Full Text Opinion

District court properly granted defendants’ summary judgment motion because plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s renewal of historical water service contracts for senior water rights holders based on violations of §7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act violations, which does not apply to the settlement contracts.

Non-profit environmental groups, including Natural Resources Defense Council (collectively “NRDC”), challenged the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s renewal of forty-one water service contracts, originally formed as part of a settlement for senior water rights holders when the Central Valley Project (CVP) was developed, arguing that the service contract renewals threaten the existence of delta smelt in violation of §7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 2005, the NRDC filed suit to challenge the contract renewals which the district court agreed were unlawful because the Bureau had not fully considered the impact on delta smelt. The district court ordered the Bureau to conduct a more detailed study and in 2008 a new opinion was issued which concluded that the renewals would likely have an adverse effect on the delta smelt. The NRDC filed suit again and the district court, despite the new opinion, granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding that the NRDC lacked standing and that the contract renewals were exempt from §7(a)(2) compliance. The NRDC appealed. The Ninth Circuit found that while the issues presented were not moot, NRDC did lack standing because the renewal contracts contain a provision which allows the Bureau to reduce water supplies in order to comply with federal law, such as ESA requirements. The Court also found that the Bureau is required to renew the settlement contracts because of the historical settlement reached with senior water rights holders in exchange for the CVP development. AFFIRMED.

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