Op-Ed: An epic victory in the battle for free-flowing rivers
In the year 2000, after years of activism and hard work by conservation organizations like the National Wildlife Federation, a federal lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Riverkeeper, an environmental organization that fights the destruction of the river systems in our nation’s name.
The lawsuit sought to stop the EPA from destroying more than 350 of the nation’s most important rivers and streams in order to protect the imperiled fish and wildlife.
The plaintiffs sued the federal government for violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by destroying critical habitat that supported three salmon species. The ESA requires that the government protect endangered species “wherever they occur.”
The federal government sought multiple court challenges to the ESA, including the most recent successful trial before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The appeals court agreed with the plaintiffs that the federal government had violated the ESA when it failed to protect critical habitat.
And, in 2011, the appeals court sent a message to the federal government by ruling in favor of the plaintiffs that “all of Nevada’s water must be protected.”
In a victory that could be felt nationwide and that still reverberates down the rivers we rely on for our lives and that flow through our homes, we won the first of our two major victories against the Obama-era EPA.
It came at the eleventh hour, when the EPA was poised to make a final decision in the ongoing litigation against it. The law prohibited the federal government from harming certain species if the species had no protected habitat to protect themselves. The lawsuit had focused on the habitat of three endangered species of fish: the Chinook Salmon (also known as the coho salmon), the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout and the Spring Largemouth Bass.
The ruling put significant pressure on the federal agency to reverse its decision. On Sept. 23, a day before a hearing on its motion to dismiss the case against it, the agency issued a final determination finding that the federal protections, which protect species like those at issue in this case, were inadequate.
The Obama administration used the decision as a