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Western Watersheds Project v. Bernhardt

ELR Citation: 51 ELR 20026
Nos. 1:16-cv-00083-BLW, (D. Idaho, 02/11/2021) (Winmill, J.)

A district court granted in part and denied in part environmental groups' motion for partial summary judgment in a challenge to BLM's decision to cancel a proposed mineral withdrawal of 10 million acres of federal land previously identified as essential for the long-term health of greater sage-grouse. The groups argued BLM's decision should be reversed because it was arbitrary and capricious under the APA, and because it was issued before the agency completed the EIS. BLM counterargued that its decision adequately explained that its cancellation was based on new data and information, and that it was not required to finish the NEPA process as it had cancelled the withdrawal proposal and thus there was no proposal before the agency. The court found that the new data BLM relied on indicated a greater need for the withdrawal from locatable mining than the previous data, and that the information regarding other threats to the species, such as wildfires, were known to BLM at the time the withdrawal was deemed to be needed for sage grouse protection, and thus did not provide a reasoned explanation for the agency's change in position. It further found that BLM was not required to complete a final EIS before canceling its application because cancellation merely continued the status quo. The court therefore denied the groups' motion with respect to their NEPA claim, but granted the motion with respect to their APA claims, and vacated and remanded to BLM for further proceedings.