Alaska Oil and Gas Ass'n v. Jewell

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 02-29-2016
  • Case #: 13-35619
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Schroeder for the Court; Circuit Judges Rawlinson and Murguia
  • Full Text Opinion

Agency action is presumed valid and will be maintained if there is reasonable basis for the conclusion and the agency has considered all relevant factors.

The Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) requires the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (“FWS”) to designate habitat critical to the preservation of an endangered species within one year of its listing. The polar bear population was put on this list and FWS proposed an area in Alaska to be critical habitat. FWS approved the scheme and the opposing parties (“Plaintiffs”), including oil and gas associations, corporations, and the State of Alaska, filed suit challenging the designation. Those opposing the designation argued that it was unreasonably large and that FWS did not follow ESA procedure. The district court granted summary judgment to the Plaintiffs holding: first, FWS failed to identify where and how existing polar bears use a small part of the habitat designated; and second, FWS failed to give the State of Alaska sufficient reasoning for adopting final rules inconsistent with the State’s proposed annotations. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed whether FWS’s actions were “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.” Agency action is presumed valid and will be maintained if there is reasonable basis for the conclusion, and the agency has considered all relevant factors. The panel found that since the purpose of the ESA is to make sure species recover, it would not be logical to limit protections to habitat that the remaining population currently uses, therefore the critical habitat requirements set out by the district court was error, by disregarding habitat essential to the polar bear’s recovery. The panel also held that the district court erred in holding that FWS did not respond adequately to the State’s comments because FWS gave the State, in writing, its reasoning for rejecting the State’s concern, which highlighted the basis for FSW’s reasoning. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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