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Alaska Oil and Gas Association v. National Marine Fisheries Service

United States District Court, D. Alaska

March 17, 2016

ALASKA OIL AND GAS ASSOCIATION; et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE; et al., Defendants. NORTH SLOPE BOROUGH, Plaintiff,
v.
PENNY PRITZKER; et al., Defendants. STATE OF ALASKA, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE; et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM DECISION [CORRECTED]

RALPH R. BEISTLINE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

I. DECISION APPEALED

On December 28, 2012, the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) of the Department of Commerce issued a final decision listing the Arctic subspecies of ringed seal (the Phoca hispida hispida subspecies) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) (hereinafter referred to as the “Listing Rule”).[1] These consolidated actions challenge that decision.[2] The facts underlying the consolidated actions are well known to parties, and a matter of public record. Accordingly, the facts will not be repeated herein except to the extent necessary to understand the decision of this court.

While, the issues presented here appear complex, this dispute ultimately boils down to whether or not it was reasonable for NMFS to list the Arctic ringed seals as a “threatened species, ” while the population is strong and healthy, based primarily upon speculation as to what circumstances may or may not exist 80 to 100 years from now. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that it was not.

II. PENDING MOTIONS

At Docket 42 the Northern Alaska Plaintiffs have moved for summary judgment, which NMFS and CBD have opposed and cross-moved for summary judgment.[3] The Northern Alaska Plaintiffs have replied and opposed the cross-motions.[4]

At Docket 50 the State of Alaska (hereinafter “State”) has moved for summary judgment, which NMFS and CBD have opposed and cross-moved for summary judgment.[5]The State has replied and opposed the cross-motions.[6]

At Docket 54 Plaintiffs AOGA/API have moved for summary judgment, which NMFS and CBD have opposed and cross-moved for summary judgment.[7] AOGA/API have replied and opposed the cross-motion.[8]

The Court being fully advised in the matter has determined that oral argument would not materially assist in resolving the issues presented. Accordingly, the requests for oral argument are DENIED.[9]

III. JURISDICTION and VENUE

Jurisdiction is vested in this Court under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 2201-02, 16 U.S.C. § 1540(g), and 5 U.S.C. §§ 553, 702-06. Venue is proper under 29 U.S.C. § 1391(e).

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW/ISSUES PRESENTED

Because the ESA does not supply a separate standard for review, this Court reviews claims under the standards of the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”).[10] The APA provides that an agency action must be upheld on judicial review unless it is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”[11] As applied to the ESA, the Ninth Circuit recently held:

[. . . .] As a reviewing court, we must consider whether the decision was based on a consideration of the relevant factors and whether there has been a clear error of judgment. Although our inquiry must be thorough, the standard of review is highly deferential; the agency's decision is entitled to a presumption of regularity, ” and we may not substitute our judgment for that of the agency. Where the agency has relied on relevant evidence [such that] a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, its decision is supported by ...

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