Western Watersheds Project v. Salazar

2011 WL 13124018 (2011)

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Western Watersheds Project v. Salazar

United States District Court for the Central District of California
2011 WL 13124018 (2011)

Facts

The desert tortoise was a threatened species. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) sought to protect the tortoise by designating some areas of the Mojave Desert as critical habitat and by directing land managers to limit the loss of tortoise habitat outside the critical habitat as much as possible. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System was a solar concentrating thermal plant under construction in the Ivanpah Valley of the Mojave Desert. The site of the solar plant provided excellent tortoise habitat. In 2007, the Bureau of Land Management (bureau) (defendant) began preparation of environmental-impact statements for plant construction. In this proceeding, an environmental group, the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) (plaintiff), asserted that the plant project would harm the desert tortoise and that the bureau’s failure to consider alternative sites violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The NEPA required the bureau to take a hard look at projects’ impacts on threatened wildlife. In 2010, the FWS published an opinion stating that the plant project would not jeopardize the existence of the tortoise, partly because the tortoise population on the site was insignificant compared to the general tortoise population. The FWS opinion set a take limit on tortoises for plant construction. In 2011, the bureau suspended work on plant construction because the take limit had been reached; the bureau had found more tortoises than expected. The FWS called for additional measures to reduce tortoise deaths. In 2011, the bureau authorized construction of the plant to continue. The WWP sued to enjoin construction, arguing that the bureau had violated the NEPA’s hard-look requirement in grossly underestimating the number of affected tortoises. BrightSource Energy Inc., the solar plant’s developer, argued that an injunction would jeopardize the plant’s funding. The bureau also noted that the solar plant had many economic benefits and would serve federal policies favoring renewable energy production. The governor of California asserted that the plant was important to California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. The WWP argued that these goals could be advanced by developing small-scale, local solar facilities. The WWP filed a motion for a preliminary injunction.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Gee, J.)

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