A federal court in Oregon has dismissed for lack of standing a challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approval of a federal loan for a water pipeline. Landwatch Lane Cnty. v. FWS, No. 12-958 (D. Ore. 10/22/12). The pipeline would be placed within Willamette Valley Prairie lands, which the court described as “a now rare ecosystem providing habitat for threatened and endangered species.”
Plaintiff, a non-profit environmental advocacy group, asserted that the federal agencies wrongfully approved construction of the 9.7-mile pipeline that would allow the city of Veneta, Oregon, to increase its water supply under a purchase deal with the Eugene Water and Electric Board. Plaintiff also claimed that the approval would harm them by causing increased urbanization in areas served by the city’s water utility. USDA approved the loan after consultation with FWS to determine whether it would have undue effects on threatened or endangered species. According to the plaintiff, the agencies violated the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act by failing to properly assess the environmental impacts of the proposed project.
On cross-motions for summary judgment, the court found for the governmental agencies, holding that the plaintiff lacked standing to bring the suit. According to the court, plaintiff had alleged no actual or threatened injury to its interests, but instead posited a “generalized grievance” that is insufficient to confer standing. The court also held that the claimed injury was not actual or imminent, since it required construction of the pipeline and subsequent development in Veneta, resulting in increased highway traffic that would adversely affect the prairie. The absence of current plans for urban expansion contributed to the court’s conclusion.
The court also held that the causation element of the standing analysis worked against plaintiff. Here, the court reasoned, any urbanization would occur because of the acts of entities not yet identified, at some future time, and thus would not be fairly traceable to the challenged action. Finally, the court found that plaintiff’s alleged harm was not redressable because the city had stated that it would proceed with the pipeline project even without the federal funding.