Supreme Court limits advocacy groups' standing to challenge public lands rules
Advocacy groups cannot challenge federal regulations on public lands unless they can prove they are themselves directly threatened by the proposed rules, the Supreme Court ruled in a split decision today.
In a 5-4 ruling, the justices sided with the Bush administration, which argued that environmental groups do not have the standing to sue the Forest Service on land management policies that might contradict congressional action.
The Summers v. Earth Island Institute case turned on whether the Forest Service violated the requirements of the 1992 Appeals Reform Act -- a law designed to ensure the agency considers public comment when it writes land and resource management plans -- when it enacted regulations that severely limited the rights of notice, appeals and public comment on certain projects that it deems to have little environmental impact.
A number of environmental groups filed a lawsuit to challenge the regulations, which they argued removed the right to appeal the agency's timber management decisions. In 2005, Judge James Singleton of the U.S. District Court in Anchorage issued a nationwide injunction against the Forest Service. And in August 2006, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision.
At the time of Singleton's original ruling, Forest Service officials said it would force foresters to forgo categorical exclusions and conduct an environmental assessment or prepare an environmental impact statement for all projects and permits. The agency responded by briefly halting all categorically excluded projects, most famously for the planned cut for the Capitol Christmas Tree, but also weddings and movie filming permits (Greenwire, Oct. 14, 2005).