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June 03, 2012

Judge Milan Smith Has Had It With the Ninth Circuit's Environmental Cases

"Here we go again," Judge Milan Smith starts in his epic broadside (PDF) against the Ninth Circuit's anti-prosperity, bureaucracy-boosting environmental decisions. The Bush 43 appointee has had enough:

I cannot conclude my dissent without considering the impact of the majority’s decision in this case, and others like it, which, in my view, flout our precedents and undermine the rule of law. . . .

By rendering the Forest Service impotent to meaningfully address low impact mining, the majority effectively shuts down the entire suction dredge mining industry in the states within our jurisdiction. . . . As a result, a number of people will lose their jobs and the businesses that have invested in the equipment used in the relevant mining activities will lose much of their value. In 2008, California issued about 3,500 permits for such mining, and 18 percent of those miners received “a significant portion of income” from the dredging. See Justin Scheck, California Sifts Gold Claims, The Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2012. The gold mining operation in this case, the New 49ers, organizes recreational weekend gold-mining excursions. The majority’s opinion effectively forces these people to await the lengthy and costly ESA consultation process if they wish to pursue their mining activities, or simply ignore the process, at their peril.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time our court has broken from decades of precedent and created burdensome, entangling environmental regulations out of the vapors. In one of the most extreme recent examples, our court held that timber companies must obtain Environmental Protection Agency permits for stormwater runoff that flows from primary logging roads into systems of ditches, culverts, and channels. Nw. Envtl. Def. Ctr. v. Brown, 640 F.3d 1063 (9th Cir. 2011). In the nearly four decades since the Clean Water Act was enacted, no court or government agency had ever imposed such a requirement. Indeed, the EPA promulgated regulations that explicitly exempted logging from this arduous permitting requirement. Yet our court decided to disregard the regulation and require the permits.

The result? The imminent decimation of what remains of the Northwest timber industry.

He goes on to note a Ninth Circuit decision that killed the San Joaquin Valley by foreclosing irrigation:

Farmers, too, have suffered, and will continue to suffer, from the impact of similarly extreme environmental decisions. The Central Valley Project Improvement Act, Pub. L. No. 102-575, 106 Stat. 4600 (1992), requires that 800,000 acre feet of water in California’s Central Valley Project be designated for “the primary purpose of implementing the fish, wildlife, and habitat restoration purposes and measures[.]” In San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority v. United States, 672 F.3d 676 (9th Cir. 2012), the majority inexplicably read this requirement to mean that water counts toward that yield only if it “predominantly contributes to one of the primary purpose programs.” Id. at 697. This interpretation has absolutely no basis in the statutory text. The practical impact of this decision is that there will be less, perhaps far less, water for irrigation in the San Joaquin Valley’s $20 billion crop industry. The region’s farms and communities, and the thousands of people employed there, already have suffered because of the lack of water, with approximately 250,000 acres of farmland now lying fallow, and unemployment ranging between 20 percent and 40 percent.

Judge Smith concludes:

No legislature or regulatory agency would enact sweeping rules that create such economic chaos, shutter entire industries, and cause thousands of people to lose their jobs. That is because the legislative and executive branches are directly accountable to the people through elections, and its members know they would be removed swiftly from office were they to enact such rules. In contrast, in order to preserve the vitally important principle of judicial independence, we are not politically accountable. However, because of our lack of public accountability, our job is constitutionally confined to interpreting laws, not creating them out of whole cloth. Unfortunately, I believe the record is clear that our court has strayed with lamentable frequency from its constitutionally limited role (as illustrated supra) when it comes to construing environmental law. When we do so, I fear that we undermine public support for the independence of the judiciary, and cause many to despair of the promise of the rule of law.

Excellent. I chopped out most of the legal portion of his analysis, so if you're interested, his dissent starts on page 40 of the PDF.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 01:23 PM

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