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Utah v. Babbitt

Citation: 28 ELR 20561
(03/03/1998)

The court holds that plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the U.S. Department of the Interior's (DOI's) 1996 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) inventory of public lands in Utah to identify the absence or presence of wilderness characteristics. The court first holds that plaintiffs failed to identify a concrete, actual or imminent injury-in-fact that is fairly traceable to the 1996 inventory and likely to be redressed by a favorable decision. Plaintiffs' mere allegation that the DOI is acting without authority or in violation of the law is insufficient to establish standing. Plaintiffs' claim that they are injured by the denial of public participation with respect to the 1996 inventory is also without merit, because FLPMA § 201 does not require public participation during the inventory process. In addition, plaintiffs' claimed injury based on the DOI's alleged imposition of a de facto wilderness management standard on nonwilderness study area (WSA) lands is not fairly traceable to the 1996 inventory nor is it likely to be redressed by enjoining the inventory. Moreover, plaintiffs' bald allegation that the DOI will at some time formally manage the lands included in the inventory under the interim management policy without public involvement in violation of FLPMA is purely speculative and, consequently, does not satisfy the case or controversy requirements of constitutional standing. Plaintiffs alleged injury from their inability to comment on whether the particular lands included in the 1996 inventory are roadless is also insufficient to afford standing. Enjoining the inventory is not substantially likely to redress plaintiffs' injuries. If the DOI later relies on the results of the inventory in amending the land use plan for the lands included in the inventory, the DOI will be required under FLPMA § 202 to provide the public with an opportunity to comment. Finally, plaintiffs' claim that they are injured by the DOI's failure to prepare an environmental impact statement for the 1996 inventory is without merit. The 1996 inventory does not constitute a major federal action requiring compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). If the DOI later utilizes the report based on the inventory in recommending wilderness legislation or if they decide to amend the land use plan, they will be required to comply with NEPA at that time. The court, therefore, vacates the district court's order enjoining the DOI from further work on the inventory.

The court next holds that plaintiffs do have standing to challenge the DOI's alleged imposition of a de facto wilderness management standard on non-WSA federal lands in violation of FLPMA. Plaintiffs have alleged a violation of their procedural rights under FLPMA and have alleged that they are harmed by the DOI's imposition of the de facto wilderness management standard. Plaintiffs have requested that the DOI be enjoined from imposing the de facto standard at least until they comply with FLPMA by formally amending the land use plan and providing for notice and comment. Thus, plaintiffs' injuries are redressable by a favorable decision. Plaintiffs have also satisfied the standing requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act because the DOI's alleged imposition of the de facto wilderness management standard constitutes a final agency action, and plaintiffs' claims fall within the zone of interests protected by FLPMA. The court remands plaintiffs' de facto management claim to the district court for further consideration.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Constance E. Brooks
C.E. Brooks & Associates
Denver Center
1776 Lincoln St., Ste. 1010, Denver CO 80203
(303) 863-0836

Counsel for Defendants
Lisa E. Jones
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Logan and Miles-LaGrange,* JJ.