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Western Watersheds Project v. Interior Board of Land Appeals.

No. 20-4120. 3/20/2023. D.Utah. Judge Eid. National Environmental Policy Act—Environmental Assessments—Article III Standing—Expired Permits—43 USC § 1752(c)(2)—Redressable Claims.

March 20, 2023

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) prepared a National Environmental Policy Act environmental assessment (assessment) to analyze the impact of new grazing permits on the Duck Creek Allotment, and it proposed new grazing permits in 2008. Western Watersheds Project (WWP) challenged the assessment and the proposed permits through an administrative protest. The BLM denied the protest and approved issuing new permits for a 10-year term. WWP then appealed the BLM’s decision through the Department of the Interior’s internal review process. An administrative law judge (ALJ) reversed the BLM’s decision, but in 2017 the Interior Board of Land Appeals reversed the ALJ’s decision. In 2018, the permits at issue here expired, and new permits were issued automatically by statute under 43 USC § 1752(c)(2). In 2019, WWP sued to challenge only the issuance of the permits that expired in 2018. The district court dismissed the case for lack of Article III standing.
On appeal, WWP challenged the dismissal. To establish standing, WWP must show that (1) it suffered an injury in fact, (2) the defendant likely caused the injury, and (3) the injury would likely be redressed by judicial relief. Here, WWP does not have a redressable claim related to the 2008 permits because (1) WWP challenged only the expired 2008 permits, so the challenged permits were no longer operative when WWP filed this case, and no judicial remedy exists for the expired permits; (2) the 2018 permits are not a continuation of the 2008 permits because the allegedly incorrect decision to issue the 2008 permits did not affect the statutorily required issuance of the 2018 permits; and (3) courts cannot remedy the alleged harm by requiring a new assessment, the priority and timing of which is solely within the discretion of the secretary of the Department of the Interior under 43 USC § 1752(i). Therefore, WWP lacks Article III standing.
The dismissal was affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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