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Sierra Club v. Glickman

ELR Citation: 26 ELR 21198
Nos. 95-50672, 82 F.3d 106/42 ERC 1989/(5th Cir., 05/02/1996) Intervention granted

The court grants a farmers' association and the state of Texas intervention as of right under Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a)(2) in a citizen suit alleging that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) failure to establish water conservation programs for farmers in central and western Texas violates federal environmental laws. The suit alleges that the USDA's failure to establish such programs has led to overpumping of the Edwards Aquifer, which has, in turn, threatened endangered species and caused water pollution. The court first holds that the association's members have a sufficient interest to intervene because they are real parties in interest to plaintiff environmental group's suit. The complaint targets, and the relief sought will directly impact, the members who pump irrigation waters from the aquifer. Additionally, the suit threatens the members' existing subsidy contracts with the USDA. The court rejects the district court's contention that because they will not be bound by the outcome of the suit, the members are not impaired by nonintervention. A ruling in the group's favor could be relied on as precedent in suits against individual farmers over their pumping from the aquifer. Thus, the suit may, as a practical matter, impair or impede the members' interests. The court holds that the USDA will not adequately represent the members' interests.

Next, the court holds that the district court erred in denying Texas intervention as of right. The court holds that the state has a sufficient interest related to the suit in that it has established a special commission to manage the aquifer's use, and the group's desire to use the suit to force the USDA to establish programs limiting agricultural pumping directly interferes with the commission's statutory authority. Moreover, if the group succeeds in enjoining USDA subsidies and in forcing the USDA to limit agricultural pumping from the aquifer, the judgment will directly interfere with the state's ability to run its agricultural programs. Also, the state has an interest in maintaining the agricultural industry in central Texas and in representing the 1.5 million users of the aquifer. The court holds that the USDA will not adequately represent the state's interests. Finally, the court rejects the district court's ruling that the association does not meet the requirements for associational standing. The members have standing to intervene individually in the suit, and the interests the association seeks to protect are germane to the association's purpose.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Pieter M. Schenkkan
Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody
515 Congress Ave., Ste. 2300, Austin TX 78767
(512) 514-5600

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

Before REYNALDO G. GARZA, JONES, and DENNIS, Circuit Judges.