In re Polar Bear Endangered Species Act Listing And § 4(d) Rule Litig..This Document Relates To:ctr. For Biological Diversity

Decision Date30 June 2011
Docket NumberMisc. No. 08–764 (EGS).MDL Docket No. 1993.
PartiesIn re POLAR BEAR ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT LISTING AND § 4(d) RULE LITIGATION.This Document Relates To:Ctr. for Biological Diversity, et al. v. Salazar,1 et al., No. 08-2113; State of Alaska v. Salazar, et al., No. 08-1352; Safari Club Int'l, et al. v. Salazar, et al., No. 08-1550; California Cattlemen's Ass'n, et al. v. Salazar, et al., No. 08–1689; Conservation Force, et al. v. Salazar, et al., No. 09-245.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Anna Margo Seidman, Safari Club International, John C. Martin, Crowell & Moring LLP, Benjamin Ellison, Patton Boggs, LLP, Michael B. Wigmore, Bingham McCutchen LLP, Benjamin Longstreth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Jason C. Rylander, Defenders of Wildlife, Howard M. Crystal, Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, Washington, DC, Bradley E. Meyen, Assistant Attorney General, Department of Law, Anchorage, AK, Craig D. Galli, Holland & Hart LLP, Salt Lake City, UT, M. Reed Hopper, Theodore Hadzi-Antich, Damien M. Schiff, Pacific Legal Foundation, Sacramento, CA, Murray D. Feldman, Holland & Hart LLP, Boise, ID, Brendan R. Cummings, Kassia R. Siegel, Joshua Tree, CA, Andrew Elsas Wetzler, Rebecca Riley, Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., Chicago, IL, John J. Jackson, III, Conservation Force, Metairie, LA, for Plaintiffs.Guillermo A. Montero, Kristen Byrnes Floom, Clifford Eugene Stevens, Jr., Meredith L. Flax, Robert Pendleton Williams, Hao-Chin Hubert Yang, Erik Edward Petersen, Department of Justice, John F. Cooney, Margaret N. Strand, Venable, LLP, Rachel D. Gray, Roger R. Martella, Jr., Thomas G. Echikson, Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, DC, Jeffrey M. Feldman, Kevin M. Cuddy, Feldman Orlansky & Sanders, Anchorage, AK, for Defendants.Douglas Scott Burdin, Safari Club International, Thomas Richard Lundquist, Crowell & Moring LLP, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs and Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

EMMET G. SULLIVAN, District Judge.

In May 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS” or “the Service”) issued its final rule listing the polar bear as a “threatened species” under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. See Determination of Threatened Status for the Polar Bear ( Ursus maritimus ) Throughout Its Range, 73 Fed.Reg. 28,212 (May 15, 2008) (the “Listing Rule”). The Service concluded that the polar bear is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future because of anticipated impacts to its sea ice habitat from increasing Arctic temperatures, which have been attributed to global greenhouse gas emissions and related atmospheric changes. Numerous plaintiffs have challenged the Listing Rule under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA” or the Act), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531–1544, and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. §§ 551–559, 701–706, claiming that the Service's decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species was arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of agency discretion. Pending before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment.

As the briefing in this case makes clear, the question of whether, when, and how to list the polar bear under the ESA is a uniquely challenging one. The three-year effort by FWS to resolve this question required agency decision-makers and experts not only to evaluate a body of science that is both exceedingly complex and rapidly developing, but also to apply that science in a way that enabled them to make reasonable predictions about potential impacts over the next century to a species that spans international boundaries. In this process, the Service considered over 160,000 pages of documents and approximately 670,000 comment submissions from state and federal agencies, foreign governments, Alaska Native Tribes and tribal organizations, federal commissions, local governments, commercial and trade organizations, conservation organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and private citizens. In addition to relying on its own experts, the agency also consulted a number of impartial experts in a variety of fields, including climate scientists and polar bear biologists.

In view of these exhaustive administrative proceedings, the Court is keenly aware that this is exactly the kind of decision-making process in which its role is strictly circumscribed. Indeed, it is not this Court's role to determine, based on its independent assessment of the scientific evidence, whether the agency could have reached a different conclusion with regard to the listing of the polar bear. Rather, as mandated by the Supreme Court and by this Circuit, the full extent of the Court's authority in this case is to determine whether the agency's decision-making process and its ultimate decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species satisfy certain minimal standards of rationality based upon the evidence before the agency at that time.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court is persuaded that the Listing Rule survives this highly deferential standard. After careful consideration of the numerous objections to the Listing Rule, the Court finds that plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that the agency's listing determination rises to the level of irrationality. In the Court's opinion, plaintiffs' challenges amount to nothing more than competing views about policy and science. Some plaintiffs in this case believe that the Service went too far in protecting the polar bear; others contend that the Service did not go far enough. According to some plaintiffs, mainstream climate science shows that the polar bear is already irretrievably headed toward extinction throughout its range. According to others, climate science is too uncertain to support any reliable predictions about the future of polar bears. However, this Court is not empowered to choose among these competing views. Although plaintiffs have proposed many alternative conclusions that the agency could have drawn with respect to the status of the polar bear, the Court cannot substitute either the plaintiffs' or its own judgment for that of the agency. Instead, this Court is bound to uphold the agency's determination that the polar bear is a threatened species as long as it is reasonable, regardless of whether there may be other reasonable, or even more reasonable, views. That is particularly true where, as here, the agency is operating at the frontiers of science.

In sum, having carefully considered plaintiffs' motions, the federal defendants' and defendant-intervenors' cross-motions, the oppositions and replies thereto, various supplemental briefs, the supplemental explanation prepared by FWS in response to this Court's November 4, 2010 remand order, arguments of counsel at a motions hearing held on February 23, 2011, the relevant law, the full administrative record, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the Service's decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the ESA represents a reasoned exercise of the agency's discretion based upon the facts and the best available science as of 2008 when the agency made its listing determination. Accordingly, the Court hereby DENIES plaintiffs' motions for summary judgment and GRANTS the federal defendants' and defendant-intervenors' motions for summary judgment.

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                ¦TABLE OF CONTENTS  ¦
                +-------------------¦
                ¦                   ¦
                +-------------------+
                
INTRODUCTION                                                            68
                TABLE OF CONTENTS                                                       70
                
I.  BACKGROUND                                                          71
                
    A.   Statutory Background                                           71
                    B.   Factual and Procedural Background                              72
                
II.  STANDARD OF REVIEW                                                 79
                III. DISCUSSION                                                         81
                
         The Service Articulated a Rational Basis for Its Conclusion
                    A.   that the Polar Bear Met the Definition of a Threatened Species 82
                         at the Time of Listing
                
         1.  Plaintiff CBD's Claim that the Polar Bear Should Have Been 82
                             Considered Endangered at the Time of Listing
                
             a.  The Service's Findings                                 82
                             b.  Plaintiff CBD's Arguments                              85
                             c.  The Court's Analysis                                   87
                
                 i.  Standard of Review on Remand                       87
                                 ii. Merits                                             89
                
         2.  Joint Plaintiffs' Claim that the Polar Bear Should Not     90
                             Have Been Considered Threatened at the Time of Listing
                
                 Joint Plaintiffs' Argument that the Service Failed to
                             a.  Demonstrate that the Polar Bear Is 67–90% Likely to    91
                                 Become Endangered
                                 Joint Plaintiffs' Argument that the Service
                             b.  Arbitrarily Selected 45 Years As the “Foreseeable      93
                                 Future” Timeframe for the Polar Bear
                
         The Service Articulated a Rational Basis for Its Conclusion
                    B.   that No Polar Bear Population or Ecoregion Qualifies As a      96
                         “Distinct Population Segment”
                
         1.  The Service's Policy                                       97
                             Plaintiffs CBD, SCI, and CF's Claim that the Service
                         2.  Wrongly Concluded that No Polar Bear Population or         98
                             Ecoregion Is “Discrete”
                         3.  The Court's Analysis                                       100
                
    C.   The Service Did Not Arbitrarily Fail to Consider Other Listing 101
                         Factors
                
             Joint Plaintiffs' Claim that the Service Failed to “Take
                         1.  Into Account” Foreign Conservation Efforts to Protect the  101
                             Polar Bear
                         2.  Joint Plaintiffs' Claim that the Service Failed
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