Ninth Circuit ruling restores ranchers’ voice in environmental lawsuits
January 28, 2011
WASHINGTON – On Jan. 14, 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals abandoned the “None but a Federal Defendant” rule that for more than 20 years prevented anyone but a federal agency from defending cases brought under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) that allege violations of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and other environmental laws. Public Lands Council (PLC) Executive Director and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Director of Federal Lands Dustin Van Liew said the decision is a major victory for livestock ranchers and other public lands users.
“Well-funded environmental activist organizations have made a hobby out of claiming violations of NEPA and other environmental laws. Unfortunately, under the ‘None but a Federal Defendant’ rule, ranchers and public lands users have been excluded from defending themselves and actively participating in cases regarding critical decisions that affect their livelihoods,” Van Liew said. “Ranchers and other public lands users should be allowed to intervene in court decisions that affect their operations and this landmark decision will finally restore that right.”
PLC, NCBA and other organizations representing public-lands users filed an amicus brief on Oct. 21, 2010, asking the Ninth Circuit Court to abandon the ‘None but a Federal Defendant’ rule. The Court’s unanimous decision supported PLC and NCBA’s request stating that the “‘federal defendant’ rule’s limitation on intervention…runs counter to the standards we apply in all other intervention of right cases.” The decision went on to say that the rule “fails to recognize the very real possibility that private parties seeking to intervene in NEPA cases may, in certain circumstances, demonstrate an interest protectable under some law, and a relationship between that interest and the claims at issue.”
According to Dunn Carney attorney, Elizabeth Howard, “The decision brings the Ninth Circuit back in line with other courts in the country. And, the briefs filed by the ranching community played an important role in this decision.”
Howard represented PLC, NCBA and other ranching interests who filed the only amicus brief asking the Ninth Circuit review the case, and later filed an amicus brief supporting abandonment of the federal defendant rule. She said ranchers will finally have the ability to truly protect their interests in these critical environmental cases.
“Livestock ranchers rely on healthy and abundant natural resources to sustain their livestock. They take pride in responsibly utilizing those resources,” Van Liew said. “Now they will once again have a seat at the table when unfounded lawsuits are brought before the courts alleging violations under NEPA and other environmental laws. PLC and NCBA support the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision in abandoning a rule that has crippled ranchers and other public lands users for far too long.”