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Defenders of Wildlife v. Jewel

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

November 17, 2014

DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SALLY JEWEL, in her official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, et al., Defendants, and OKLAHOMA INDEPENDENT PETROLEUM ASSOCIATION, et al., Defendant-Intervenors

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE, CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY, WILDEARTH GUARDIANS, Plaintiffs: Sarah K. McMillan, WILDEARTH GUARDIANS, Missoula, MT; Tanya Sanerib, Center for Biological Diversity, Portland, OR; Jason C. Rylander, DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE, Washington, DC.

For SALLY JEWELL, DANIEL M. ASHE, U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, Defendants: Daniel J. Pollak, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Wildlife & Marine Resources Section, Washington, DC; Hao-Chin Hubert Yang, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, DC; Luther L. Hajek, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Environment and Natural Resources Division, Denver, CO.

For NATIONAL RURAL ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE ASSOCIATION, Intervenor Defendant: Andrew Jacob Turner, LEAD ATTORNEY, HUNTON & WILLIAMS LLP, Washington, DC; Karma B. Brown, LEAD ATTORNEY, HUNTON & WILLIAMS, Washington, DC.

For WESTERN ASSOCIATION OF FISH AND WILDLIFE AGENCIES, Intervenor Defendant: David James Willms, LEAD ATTORNEY, DRAY, DYEKMAN, REED & HEALEY, PC, Cheyenne, WY.

For COLORADO FARM BUREAU, KANSAS FARM BUREAU, NEW MEXICO FARM & LIVESTOCK BUREAU, TEXAS FARM BUREAU, AMERICAN FARM BUREAU FEDERATION, Intervenor Defendants: Bruce V. Spiva, LEAD ATTORNEY, THE SPIVA LAW FIRM, PLLC, Washington, DC.

For OKLAHOMA INDEPENDENT PETROLEUM ASSOCIATION, OKLAHOMA OIL AND GAS ASSOCIATION, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF GEOPHYSICAL CONTRACTORS, INDEPENDENT PETROLEUM ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA, AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE, WESTERN ENERGY ALLIANCE, Intervenors: Mark R. Robeck, LEAD ATTORNEY, KELLEY, DRYE & WARREN, LLP, Washington, DC.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION

BERYL A. HOWELL, United States District Judge.

Three conservation organizations have brought suit against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (" FWS" ) and two government officials (collectively, the " Federal Defendants" ) over two regulatory decisions relating to the " lesser prairie-chicken" (collectively, the " Challenged Rules" ).[1] See Compl. ¶ 1. This case is one of five similar legal challenges filed in both Oklahoma and Texas. The Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, along with others, intervened in this action and asked this Court to transfer the case to the Northern District of Oklahoma, where the first of these cases was filed and other similar legal challenges are currently pending. See Mot. Transfer Venue, ECF No. 12. For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that the transfer of this case to the Northern District of Oklahoma best serves the interests of justice and is warranted under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

I. BACKGROUND

The lesser prairie-chicken " is a species of prairie grouse endemic to the southern

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high plains of the United States." 79 Fed.Reg. 19,974, 19,998 (April 10, 2014). The lesser prairie-chicken inhabits shortgrass prairies, sand sage grasslands, and shinnery oak shrubsteppe across Oklahoma, eastern New Mexico, the Texas panhandle, Kansas, and southeastern Colorado. See Id. at 20,009. In 2010, the WildEarth Guardians--a plaintiff in this action--brought suit against the FWS seeking a listing decision regarding the lesser prairie-chicken, among many other species. See In re Endangered Species Act Section 4 Deadline Litig., 277 F.R.D. 1 (D.D.C.). The action was consolidated with several other cases seeking listing decisions for additional species. See In re Endangered Species Act Section 4 Deadline Litig., 716 F.Supp.2d 1369 (J.P.M.D.L. 2010). Ultimately, the parties entered into a consent decree, which required the FWS to make listing decisions with respect to hundreds of species--including the lesser prairie-chicken--by specific dates. See In re Endangered Species Act Section 4 Deadline Litig., 277 F.R.D. 1, 6-7 (D.D.C. 2011).

In 2014, the FWS issued a final rule listing the lesser prairie-chicken as " threatened" under the Endangered Species Act (" ESA" ). See 79 Fed.Reg. 19,974 (April 10, 2014) (" Listing Decision" ). The FWS also issued a second rule modifying the standard protections available for the lesser prairie-chicken as a " threatened" species. See 79 Fed.Reg. 20074 (April 10, 2014) (" Conditions Decision." ). All of the " comments and materials received, as well as supporting documentation" concerning the Challenged Rules is available for public inspection at the FWS Oklahoma Ecological Services Field Office (" FWS Field Office" ) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. See 79 Fed.Reg. 19,974; 79 Fed.Reg. 20074. An individual or party seeking additional information regarding the Challenged Rules are directed to contact the Field Supervisor for the FWS Field Office, once again, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. See 79 Fed.Reg. 19,974; 79 Fed.Reg. 20074. For both of the Challenged Rules, " the primary authors [were] the staff members of the Oklahoma Ecological Services Field Office." See 79 Fed.Reg. 19,974, 20,070; 79 Fed.Reg. 20074, 20,084. The Challenged Rules were signed in Washington D.C.

Following the Listing Decision, multiple parties brought suit. At present, five separate suits spanning three separate venues are pending to challenge one or both of the Challenged Rules. This is the fourth-filed action and the only action filed in Washington D.C. As summarized below, each of the pending actions challenges the Listing Decision, while two pending actions ...


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