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Opinion: Columnists

Ron Arnold: Federal court slaps down Big Green land grab

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Three of the nation's most destructive environmentalist groups sued the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service in March 2011. Their goal was to force the agency to declare more than 187,000 square miles (approximately 120 million acres) along the north coast of Alaska as no-development "critical habitat" for the threatened polar bear. The litigated area accounts for much of Alaska's oil production and Native Alaskan economic activity.

Rather than fight the suit, the FWS caved. An out-of-court settlement was reached that included a "Final Rule" putting those areas off-limits -- which is to say, in all likelihood, that sympathetic bureaucrats colluded with like-minded environmental groups to justify a policy they already wanted. And that's where many stories of environmental regulation end.

But this one did not end there. Last month, a federal judge invalidated the settlement and thrashed the Fish and Wildlife Service for its Big Green-induced errors in a severe court ruling. Big Green's lawsuit had used the Endangered Species Act "as a tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the primary threat to the species" -- a rather speculative and political rationale to begin with. And as a result, the court ruled that the settlement short-circuited and corrupted the agency's meticulous -- and legally required -- decision-making process.

The vast land and ocean area that the FWS had designated infuriated Alaska's Republican governor, Sean Parnell, and Attorney General Michael Geraghty, who brought the suit against the FWS along with ten Native villages and councils and the affected oil and gas firms and their suppliers. Their lawsuit does not name the Big Green groups as defendants because the land grab rule is a federal action. Still, the greenies signed on to the suit as intervenors for the government's side.

These gluttonous litigators are not denizens of the Birkenstock and bean sprouts crowd, nor of the Little Green wine and cheese set, but of the Big Green black-tie and 1945 Mouton Rothschild cabal: the Natural Resources Defense Council (2011 assets: $248 million from such multibillionaire golden donors as the Pew Charitable Trusts, George Soros and a Getty Oil heiress); Greenpeace (2011 revenue: $35 million, from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the MacArthur "genius grant" Foundation and President Obama's old boardroom buddies at the Joyce Foundation); and the Center for Biological Diversity (poor boys at only $8 million in revenue, coming from the likes of Trout Unlimited, Ted Turner and the far-left Tides Foundation, among many others).

The FWS had the responsibility of protecting the polar bear and designating appropriate critical habitat for its survival and well-being. The catch is, critical habitat designations require balancing habitat with human economic survival. The FWS settlement with the green greedies didn't do that. So the state of Alaska, et al., filed suit.

Alaska's 59-page court brief on the FWS Final Rule began, "The designation is of unprecedented size. ... The Service designated this vast area even though it found that the designation will not result in any present or anticipated future conservation benefit to the polar bear species, and despite significant adverse economic and other impacts to the State, Alaska Natives, and the oil and gas industry."

U.S. District Court Judge Ralph R. Beistline found so many errors and omissions in the Final Rule that it took 50 pages to excoriate the FWS sufficiently for producing it. At the end, Judge Beistline wrote, "After reviewing the voluminous pages of case law pertaining to the legally required consequence of an agency action found to be arbitrary, capricious, and procedurally errant, and in light of the seriousness of the Service's errors, the Court hereby sets aside the Final Rule."

Beistline's order: "[T]he Final Rule shall be VACATED and REMANDED to the Service to correct the aforementioned substantive and procedural deficiencies."

You paid for this whole exercise, taxpayers. I suggest we send the bill to the NRDC's next black-tie event. It's just pocket change to the power elite.

Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

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