National Wildlife Federation et al v. National Marine Fisheries Service et al
Opinion and Order - The motions for injunctive relief requested by Plaintiffs, including Oregon, (ECF 2112 and 2114 ) are GRANTED IN PART, as set forth in this Opinion and Order. The Court intends to hold periodic status conferences regarding the increased spill that must take place in 2018 and its related planning before then. Within 28 days, the parties shall confer and file with the Court their joint or separate recommendations for a schedule of periodic status conferences. Signed on 3/27/2017 by Judge Michael H. Simon. (mja)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF OREGON
NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION,
Case No. 3:01-cv-0640-SI
OPINION AND ORDER
NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES
SERVICE, et al.,
Todd D. True and Stephen D. Mashuda, EARTHJUSTICE, 705 Second Avenue, Suite 203, Seattle,
WA 98104; Daniel J. Rohlf, EARTHRISE LAW CENTER, Lewis & Clark Law School, 10015 S.W.
Terwilliger Boulevard, MSC 51, Portland, OR 97219. Of Attorneys for Plaintiffs.
Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, and Nina R. Englander and Sarah Weston, Assistant
Attorneys General, OREGON DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, 1515 S.W. Fifth Avenue, Suite 410,
Portland, OR 97201. Of Attorneys for Intervenor-Plaintiff State of Oregon.
David J. Cummings and Geoffrey M. Whiting, NEZ PERCE TRIBE, OFFICE OF LEGAL COUNSEL,
P.O. Box 305, Lapwai, ID 83540. Of Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Nez Perce Tribe.
Billy J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Coby Howell, Senior Trial Attorney, UNITED
STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY’S OFFICE, 1000 S.W. Third
Avenue, Portland, OR 97204; John C. Cruden, Assistant Attorney General, Seth M. Barsky,
Section Chief, and Michael R. Eitel and Andrea Gelatt, Trial Attorneys, UNITED STATES
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, ENVIRONMENT & NATURAL RESOURCES DIVISION, WILDLIFE &
MARINE RESOURCES SECTION, 999 18th Street, South Terrace, Suite 370, Denver, CO 80202;
Romney S. Philpott, Trial Attorney, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, ENVIRONMENT &
NATURAL RESOURCES DIVISION, NATURAL RESOURCES SECTION, 601 D Street NW, Washington,
DC 20004. Of Attorneys for Federal Defendants.
Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, STATE OF IDAHO;
Clive J. Strong, Division Chief, and Clay R. Smith and Steven W. Strack, Deputy Attorneys
General, NATURAL RESOURCES DIVISION, P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID 83720. Of Attorneys for
Intervenor-Defendant State of Idaho.
PAGE 1 – OPINION AND ORDER
Timothy C. Fox, Attorney General, and Jeremiah D. Weiner, Assistant Attorney General,
MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, 215 North Sanders
Street, P.O. Box 201401, Helena, MT 59620; Mark L. Stermitz, CROWLEY FLECK, PLLP, 305
South Fourth Street East, Suite 100, Missoula, MT 59801. Of Attorneys for IntervenorDefendant State of Montana.
Michael S. Grossmann, Senior Counsel, STATE OF WASHINGTON, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY
GENERAL, P.O. Box 40100, Olympia, WA 98504. Of Attorneys for Intervenor-Defendant State
Julie A. Weis, HAGLUND KELLEY LLP, 200 S.W. Market Street, Suite 1777, Portland, OR 97201;
William K. Barquin, TRIBAL LEGAL DEPARTMENT, KOOTENAI TRIBE OF IDAHO, Portland Office,
1000 S.W. Broadway, Suite 1060, Portland, OR 97205. Of Attorneys for Intervenor-Defendant
Kootenai Tribe of Idaho.
Stuart M. Levit and John Harrison, CONFEDERATED SALISH AND KOOTENAI TRIBES, 42487
Complex Boulevard, P.O. Box 278, Pablo, MT 59855. Of Attorneys for Intervenor-Defendant
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
Jay T. Waldron, Walter H. Evans, III, and Carson Bowler, SCHWABE, WILLIAMSON & WYATT,
P.C., Pacwest Center, 1211 S.W. Fifth Avenue, Suite 1900, Portland, OR 97204. Of Attorneys
for Intervenor-Defendant Inland Ports and Navigation Group.
Beth S. Ginsberg and Jason T. Morgan, STOEL RIVES LLP, 600 University Street, Suite 3600,
Seattle, WA 98101. Of Attorneys for Intervenor-Defendant Northwest RiverPartners.
James L. Buchal, MURPHY & BUCHAL LLP, 3425 S.E. Yamhill Street, Suite 100, Portland, OR
97214. Of Attorneys for Intervenor-Defendant Columbia Snake River Irrigators Association.
John W. Ogan, KARNOPP PETERSEN LLP, 1201 N.W. Wall Street, Suite 200, Bend, OR 97701.
Of Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of
Brent H. Hall, Office of Legal Counsel, CONFEDERATED TRIBES OF THE UMATILLA INDIAN
RESERVATION, 46411 Timíne Way, Pendleton, OR 97801. Of Attorneys for Amicus Curiae
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Patrick D. Spurgin, 411 North Second Street, Yakima, WA 98901. Of Attorneys for Amicus
Curiae Yakama Nation.
Brian C. Gruber and Beth Baldwin, ZIONTZ CHESTNUT, 2101 Fourth Avenue, Suite 1230, Seattle,
WA 98121. Of Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
James Waddell, P.E., 289 Ocean Cove Lane, Port Angeles, WA 98363. Amicus Curiae, pro se.
PAGE 2 – OPINION AND ORDER
Michael H. Simon, District Judge.
Intervenor-Plaintiff State of Oregon (“Oregon”) and Plaintiffs (collectively, “Spill
Plaintiffs”) move under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) for an injunction requiring the
Federal Defendants to provide spring spill beginning in 2017 for each remaining year of the
remand period at the maximum spill level that meets, but does not exceed, total dissolved gas
(“TDG”) criteria allowed under state law (“spill cap”) as follows: (1) from April 3 through
June 20 at Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite dams; and (2) from
April 10 through June 15 at Bonneville, The Dalles, John Day, and McNary dams. The Spill
Plaintiffs request this spill be on a 24-hour basis using the most advantageous pattern to reduce
TDG. The requested injunction, however, would allow for reductions in spill below the spill cap
by the Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) under certain involuntary spill conditions or to
address specific biological constraints, provided there is no objection from any member of the
Fish Passage Advisory Committee (“FPAC”). The Spill Plaintiffs also move for an injunction
requiring the Federal Defendants to operate the juvenile bypass and related Passive Integrated
Transponder (“PIT”) tag detection system beginning March 1 of each year, commencing in 2017.
Currently, this system begins in mid- to late March. The Nez Perce Tribe supports both motions.
Plaintiffs also move under the National Environmental Procedure Act (“NEPA”) for an
injunction prohibiting the Corps from expending any additional funds on: (1) two planned
projects at Ice Harbor Dam, expected to cost approximately $37 million; and (2) any new capital
improvement projects or expansion of existing projects at any of the four Lower Snake River
dams that would cost more than one million dollars, in the absence of prior approval from the
Court. Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe also support this motion. For the following reasons, both
motions are granted in part and denied in part.
PAGE 3 – OPINION AND ORDER
A. Permanent or Preliminary Injunction
Plaintiffs and Oregon explain that they seek “permanent” injunctions until the Federal
Defendants comply with the ESA and NEPA. The Federal Defendants, Intervenor-Defendants,
and the Amici Curiae who oppose the requested injunctions (collectively, “Defendants”)
variously discuss both preliminary and permanent injunction standards.
A plaintiff seeking a permanent injunction must show:
“(1) that it has suffered an irreparable injury; (2) that remedies
available at law, such as monetary damages, are inadequate to
compensate for that injury; (3) that considering the balance of
hardships between the plaintiff and defendant, a remedy in equity
is warranted; and (4) that the public interest would not be disserved
by a permanent injunction.”
Cottonwood Envt’l Law Ctr v. U.S. Forest Svc., 789 F.3d 1075, 1088 (9th Cir. 2015) (quoting
eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388, 391 (2006)).
When seeking a preliminary injunction, a plaintiff must show that: (1) he or she is likely
to succeed on the merits; (2) he or she is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of
preliminary relief; (3) the balance of equities tips in his or her favor; and (4) that an injunction is
in the public interest. Winter v. Nat. Res. Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008). In the
Ninth Circuit, a plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction alternatively may show “‘serious
questions going to the merits’ and a hardship balance that tips sharply toward the plaintiff,
assuming the other two elements of the Winter test are also met.” All. for the Wild Rockies v.
Cottrell, 632 F.3d 1127, 1132 (9th Cir. 2011). The standard for a permanent injunction is similar,
but not identical, to the standard required for a preliminary injunction. See Amoco Prod. Co. v.
Vill. of Gambell, 480 U.S. 531, 546 n. 12 (1987) (“The standard for a preliminary injunction is
PAGE 4 – OPINION AND ORDER
essentially the same as for a permanent injunction with the exception that the plaintiff must show
a likelihood of success on the merits rather than actual success.”).
Injunctions, such as those sought by Plaintiffs and Oregon, are not preliminary in the
conventional sense because the Court has already decided the merits of this case. The relief now
being sought, however, also is not permanent in the conventional sense because it may be lifted
after the Federal Defendants comply with the Court’s remand order by preparing a new
biological opinion and following NEPA. See S. Yuba River Citizens League v. Nat’l Marine
Fisheries Serv., 804 F. Supp. 2d 1045, 1052 (E.D. Cal. 2011). Thus, in practical effect, Plaintiffs
seek “interim injunctive measures.” Id. Because the Court has already decided the merits of the
ESA and NEPA claims in this case, the Court finds the factors for granting permanent injunctive
relief to be more appropriate in considering the pending motions, but notes that the requested
injunctions will be in place only for a limited duration.1
B. Injunction Under the ESA
When considering a motion for an injunction under the ESA, “the ESA strips courts of at
least some of their equitable discretion in determining whether injunctive relief is warranted.”
Cottonwood, 789 F.3d at 1090. In Cottonwood, the Ninth Circuit discussed the Supreme Court’s
decision in Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153 (1978), and explained how
Congress in that case “remove[d] several factors in the four-factor test from a court’s equitable
jurisdiction.” The Ninth Circuit stated:
Many Defendants also argue that the Court should apply the heightened standard for a
“mandatory” injunction because the Spill Plaintiffs request the Corps to take affirmative action
that is different from the “status quo.” The states of Idaho and Montana, however, concede that
the “law of the case” requires application of the regular, or “prohibitory,” injunction standard
because that is the standard that Judge Redden and the Ninth Circuit previously used in this case.
In addition, it is the “status quo” that is alleged to be harming the listed species, which is the
harm to be mitigated. See Wash. Toxics Coal. v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 413 F.3d 1024, 1035 (9th
PAGE 5 – OPINION AND ORDER
Hill held that courts do not have discretion to balance the parties’
competing interests in ESA cases because Congress “afford[ed]
first priority to the declared national policy of saving endangered
species.” 437 U.S. at 185. Hill also held that Congress established
an unparalleled public interest in the “incalculable” value of
preserving endangered species. Id. at 187-88. It is the
incalculability of the injury that renders the “remedies available at
law, such as monetary damages . . . inadequate.” See eBay, 547
U.S. at 391.
Cottonwood, 789 F.3d at 1090 (alterations in original). The Ninth Circuit concluded that
although three of the four injunction factors are presumed in an ESA case, “there is no
presumption of irreparable injury where there has been a procedural violation in ESA cases.” Id.
at 1091. The Ninth Circuit noted, however, that “in light of the stated purposes of the ESA in
conserving endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems that support them, establishing
irreparable injury should not be an onerous task for plaintiffs.” Id.
If a court determines that injunctive relief is warranted, such relief must be tailored to
remedy the specific harm. Melendres v. Arpaio, 784 F.3d 1254, 1265 (9th Cir. 2015) (“We have
long held that injunctive relief must be tailored to remedy the specific harm alleged.” (quotation
marks omitted)). “Nevertheless, the district court has broad discretion in fashioning a remedy.”
Id. Further, an “enjoined party’s history of noncompliance with prior orders can justify greater
court involvement than is ordinarily permitted.” Id. (quotation marks omitted).
C. Injunction Under NEPA
In considering injunctions under NEPA, a court applies the normal four-factor test. The
Supreme Court has clarified, however, that courts may not put their “thumb on the scales” in
considering injunctive relief under NEPA and may not presume any factor as being met or that
an injunction is the proper remedy. Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, 561 U.S. 139, 157
PAGE 6 – OPINION AND ORDER
This case has a long history.2 Its background is well known to the parties and was
discussed in the Court’s most recent Opinion and Order, which resolved the parties’ crossmotions for summary judgment (“2016 Opinion”). See NMFS V, 184 F. Supp. 3d at 869-72, 87983. Six biological opinions and supplemental biological opinions3 relating to the operation of the
Federal Columbia River Power System (“FCRPS”) have been invalidated in this case by three
different federal district judges. Throughout the history of this litigation, the Court has expressed
significant concern regarding the harm caused to ESA-listed species of salmonids by the
operation of the dams on the lower Columbia and Snake rivers.
As relevant here, in its 2016 Opinion, the Court concluded that NOAA Fisheries violated
the ESA by adopting the 2014 Biological Opinion (“2014 BiOp”), in part because the 2014
BiOp: (1) relied on an unsound methodology for evaluating whether operations of the FCRPS
would jeopardize the continued existence of the listed species; (2) did not adequately take into
account ongoing low abundance levels; (3) did not rationally address recovery; (4) did not
adequately consider declining recruits-per-spawner (or returns-per-spawner); (5) relied on
immediate, specific numeric survival improvements from uncertain habitat improvement actions
with uncertain benefits, without allowing any “cushion” in case all of the actions or their
Several previous court opinions from this case will be discussed in this Opinion and
Order. They are: Nat’l Wildlife Fed. v. Nat’l Marine Fisheries Serv., 2005 WL 1398223, at *3
(D. Or. June 10, 2005) (granting in part preliminary injunction regarding spill) (“NMFS I”), aff’d
in part by 422 F.3d 782, 788-93 (9th Cir. 2005) (“NMFS II”); Nat’l Wildlife Fed. v. Nat’l Marine
Fisheries Serv., 524 F.3d 917, 924 (9th Cir. 2007) (invalidating 2004 BiOp) (“NMFS III”); Nat’l
Wildlife Fed. v. Nat’l Marine Fisheries Serv., 839 F. Supp. 2d 1117 (D. Or. 2011) (invalidating
2008 and 2010 BiOps) (“NMFS IV”); Nat’l Wildlife Fed. v. Nat’l Marine Fisheries Serv., 184 F.
Supp. 3d 861, 869-72, 879-83 (D. Or. 2016) (invaliding 2014 BiOp) (“NMFS V”).
These biological and supplemental biological opinions were issued in 1993, 2000, 2004,
2008, 2010, and 2014.
PAGE 7 – OPINION AND ORDER
expected benefits were not realized during the BiOp period; and (6) did not adequately consider
the effects of climate change. Id. at 898-923. The Court also concluded that the Corps and the
Bureau of Reclamation (“BOR”) violated NEPA by failing to prepare a single (or
comprehensive) environmental impact statement (“EIS”). The Court sought further briefing on
the appropriate timing for NEPA compliance and ultimately ordered a five-year schedule, as
requested by the Federal Defendants.
A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)
Defendants argue that Plaintiffs’ and Oregon’s motions must be denied because they fail
to meet the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 60(b). Plaintiffs and Oregon
dispute that Rule 60(b) even applies. The Court need not determine whether Rule 60(b) applies
because even if it does, the Court would allow Plaintiffs and Oregon to proceed with their
motions under Rule 60(b)(6).
In the 2016 Opinion, the Court invited supplemental briefing on “proposed timing for a
reasonable NEPA process and other arguments regarding the scope of appropriate injunctive
relief relating to NEPA.” NMFS V, 184 F. Supp. 3d at 948. Although the Court was aware that in
the past there had been allegations that the Federal Defendants had not complied with agreedupon spill, no issue related to spill was before the Court, and to the Court’s knowledge no such
problems had occurred in recent years. Thus, the Court was not immediately concerned with
crafting an injunction relating to spill, but was instead focused on an appropriate NEPA
injunction and its timing.
In responding to the Federal Defendants’ proposal regarding the timing of NEPA
compliance, Plaintiffs and Oregon (in a joint brief) raised the possibility of requesting the
PAGE 8 – OPINION AND ORDER
injunctions they seek in the pending motions. ECF 2074 at 23-26. In response, the Federal
Plaintiffs devote over three pages to pondering whether injunctive
relief may be appropriate. Plaintiffs are free to move the Court for
relief if at some future point they deem it necessary. But they have
not done so now, and the Court should not delay entering an order
providing a deadline for completing the NEPA process so that the
parties and region can move forward in addressing the Court’s
May 4, 2016 Opinion.
ECF 2078 at 34-35 (emphasis added).
The Court and the parties then focused their immediate efforts on finalizing a remand
order that established the timing for NEPA compliance, instead of briefing the additional
injunctions now sought by Plaintiffs and Oregon. The Federal Defendants expressly
acknowledged that Plaintiffs and Oregon could move the Court at a later time for such
injunctions rather than slowing down the process of completing the Court’s order establishing
the NEPA deadlines.
Additionally, the Court expressly retained jurisdiction over this case to ensure that the
Federal Defendants: (1) develop appropriate mitigation measures to avoid jeopardy (which could
potentially include additional spill); (2) produce and file a biological opinion that complies with
the ESA and APA; and (3) prepare an EIS that complies with NEPA (which could potentially
include requiring that the agencies avoid limiting the choice of reasonable alternatives and
committing resources that prejudice the selection of alternatives). NMFS V, 184 F. Supp. 3d
at 950. Accordingly, assuming without deciding that Rule 60(b) applies, the Court finds that
these reasons constitute “other reason[s] that justif[y] relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6).
B. Whether the Corps and BOR violated the ESA
In the 2016 Opinion, the Court did not expressly address Plaintiffs’ Second Claim for
Relief in their Seventh Amended Complaint, which alleges that the Corps and BOR violated
PAGE 9 – OPINION AND ORDER
Section 7 of the ESA by relying on the 2008, 2010, and 2014 BiOps without conducting an
independent analysis to ensure that their activities did not jeopardize the listed species.
Defendants argue that this means that Plaintiffs did not prevail on this claim.4 Plaintiffs argue
that it can be implied that they did prevail because these BiOps have been invalidated by the
Court, and if it cannot be so implied, the Court should now so find.
In the conclusion of the 2016 Opinion, the Court stated that Defendants’ “motions are
granted with respect to the claims that NOAA Fisheries did not violate the ESA and the APA in
determining in the 2014 BiOp that the RPA does not adversely modify critical habitat and is not
likely adversely to affect endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, and are denied in all
other respects.” NMFS V, 184 F. Supp. 3d at 950 (emphasis added). Thus, it cannot reasonably
be interpreted that in the 2016 Opinion, the Court ruled for the Federal Defendants on this claim
and found that the Corps and BOR did not violate the ESA.
In the 2016 Opinion, the Court invalidated the 2014 BiOp, on which the Corps and BOR
relied in issuing their 2014 Records of Decision. Notably, in granting Plaintiffs’ motions for
summary judgment, the Court did not include any similar limitation as it did in granting the
Defendants’ motions. The Court described the motions it was granting without denying
Plaintiffs’ motions in all other respects. Thus, even though the Court did not expressly grant
Plaintiffs’ motion that the Corps and BOR violated the ESA, that conclusion is reasonably
implied from the 2016 Opinion.
To the extent it cannot reasonably be implied from the 2016 Opinion, the Court now so
finds. The evidence shows that in reaching their 2014 Records of Decision, the Corps and BOR
did not conduct any independent analysis but solely relied on the now-invalidated 2014 BiOp.
The Court focused on the arguments emphasized by the parties in their summary
judgment briefs. Any failure specifically to address this claim was inadvertent.
PAGE 10 – OPINION AND ORDER
This is a violation of the ESA, for the same reasons previously described by Judge Redden
regarding an earlier biological opinion:
In my May 2005 opinion, I found the 2004 BiOp violates the ESA.
I now conclude that, in light of their reliance on the 2004 BiOp, the
Record of Consultation and Statement of Decision (ROD) issued
by the Corps on January 3, 2005, and the ROD issued by the BOR
on January 12, 2005, also violate the ESA . . . . The RODs provide
no specific analysis nor point to any record evidence to support the
assertion that the action agencies conducted independent
assessments and reached independent and rational conclusions in
adopting them. The RODs reveal that these agencies embraced the
same fundamental legal flaws that NOAA attempted to use to
justify its circumscription of the action subject to jeopardy
analysis. I find, therefore, that in substance the RODs relied on the
no-jeopardy finding of the 2004 BiOp without an independent
rational basis for doing so.
NMFS I, 2005 WL 1398223, at *3.
C. Spill Injunction
1. Irreparable Harm
The Federal Defendants repeatedly have concluded that the operations of the FCRPS
jeopardize the listed species—thus the need for reasonable and prudent alternatives (“RPA”) in
the biological opinions. In the 2016 Opinion, the Court emphasized that despite the 73 RPAs
from the 2008 and 2014 BiOps, the most recent data shows that the listed species remain in a
“precarious,” “imperiled,” and “perilous” state. See NMFS V, 184 F. Supp. 3d at 872, 876, 879,
890, 892, 918, 947 (citing relevant data); see also NMFS III, 524 F.3d at 933 (emphasizing the
“highly precarious status” of the species at issue in this case).
In light of the ongoing imperiled status of the listed species, the Court does not find any
reason to disturb the following finding of Judge Redden in his 2011 Opinion and Order:
As I have previously found, there is ample evidence in the record
that indicates that the operation of the FCRPS causes substantial
harm to listed salmonids. . . . NOAA Fisheries acknowledges that
the existence and operation of the dams accounts for most of the
PAGE 11 – OPINION AND ORDER
mortality of juveniles migrating through the FCRPS. As in the
past, I find that irreparable harm will result to listed species as a
result of the operation of the FCRPS.
NMFS IV, 839 F. Supp. 2d at 1131. Accordingly, continuation of the status quo is likely to result
in irreparable harm to the listed species.5
The Federal Defendants and some intervenors argue that the Spill Plaintiffs must prove
that operating with Court-ordered spill during the next two years will pose an imminent threat at
the species level. This is not the appropriate standard. As the Ninth Circuit discussed in affirming
Judge Redden’s previous spill order, after the Court has found that the operation of the FCRPS
causes irreparable harm to the species and has invalidated the governing biological opinion, the
Court is faced with the choice of either allowing an operation that violates the ESA to continue
or ordering modifications. NMFS II, 422 F.3d at 796. The Ninth Circuit gave no indication that
to order modifications would require a separate finding that during the time remaining in the
remand period the species is in imminent danger of becoming extinct or that only the operations
relating to the proposed modification (e.g., spill) must be causing the irreparable harm.6 To do so
runs contrary to the ESA. See Nat’l Wildlife Fed. v. Burlington N. R.R., 23 F.3d 1508, 1512 n. 8
Defendant-Intervenor RiverPartners argues that the Spill Plaintiffs must connect any
harm to the species to themselves and that they have failed to do so. RiverPartners cites in their
brief, and relied on at oral argument, Idaho Rivers United v. United States Army Corps of
Engineers, 156 F. Supp. 3d 1252 (W.D. Wash. 2015), for this proposition. Idaho Rivers,
however, is inapposite. In that case, the court found that the plaintiffs had adequately shown that
harm to the species, the lamprey, would affect the Nez Perce Tribe. Id. at 1260-61. What the
plaintiffs did not show was that the lamprey was at risk of irreparable harm. Id. at 1261-62. Thus,
because the plaintiffs’ harm was derivative of the lamprey’s harm, and harm to the lamprey was
not shown, harm to the plaintiffs was not shown. Id. Here, the Court has found harm to the listed
species. Thus, Idaho Rivers is distinguishable. The Court also finds that the Spill Plaintiffs have
adequately shown how harm to the listed species will affect the Spill Plaintiffs.
To the contrary, even though the injunction at issue involved only spill, Judge Redden
and the Ninth Circuit considered the harm caused by the full operation of the FCRPS, not just
spill or lack thereof.
PAGE 12 – OPINION AND ORDER
(9th Cir. 1994) (“We are not saying that a threat of extinction to the species is required before an
injunction may issue under the ESA. This would be contrary to the spirit of the statute, whose
goal of preserving threatened and endangered species can be achieved through incremental
steps.”). Additionally, as the Court has already found, operation of the FCRPS jeopardizes the
listed species at a species level—the dams are the largest source of mortality of juveniles.
Moreover, even if the operation of the FCRPS did not jeopardize the species, proving harm to the
entire species is not necessary for an injunction under ESA Section 7, rather “[e]vidence that the
[listed] salmon will suffer imminent harm of any magnitude is sufficient to warrant injunctive
relief.” Yurok Tribe v. United States Bureau of Reclamation, 2017 WL 512845, at *24 (N.D. Cal.
Feb. 8, 2017) (citing Big Country Foods, Inc. v. Bd. of Educ., 868 F.2d 1085, 1088 (9th Cir.
1989); Nat’l Wildlife Fed. v. Burlington N. R.R., 23 F.3d 1508, 1512 n.8 (9th Cir. 1994);
Marbled Murrelet v. Babbitt, 83 F.3d 1060, 1066 (9th Cir. 1996)). This is not a case where the
court is considering the loss of only a small number of animals within the listed species. See,
e.g., Defenders of Wildlife v. Salazar, 812 F. Supp. 2d 1205, 1209-10 (D. Mont. 2009)
(concluding that the loss of a few individual wolves did not constitute irreparable harm when
there was no evidence that the loss “would be significant for the species as a whole”).
2. Other Injunction Factors
The ESA “strips” the Court of the equitable discretion to weigh the other traditional
factors relating to injunctive relief. Cottonwood, 789 F.3d at 1090. The Court does, however,
consider Defendants’ arguments relating to the potential harm to the listed species and to human
life versus the benefits asserted by the Spill Plaintiffs in evaluating the appropriate injunctive
relief. As instructed by the Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit, however, the Court does not
weigh the public interest or balance the equities, for example by weighing any potential
PAGE 13 – OPINION AND ORDER
implications on the power system or costs to the Federal Defendants. Id. And the Court presumes
that monetary damages are insufficient. Id.
3. Whether Injunctive Relief is Appropriate
The current situation is similar to the situation that was before the Ninth Circuit when it
affirmed in part Judge Redden’s previous injunction in this case relating to spill. See NMFS II,
422 F.3d at 795-99. The Court has invalidated the 2014 BiOp, found that the listed species
remain in an imperiled state, and concluded that continued operation of the FCRPS is likely to
result in irreparable harm to the listed species. The question now before the Court is “what
interim remedy [is] appropriate to redress the ESA violations.” Id. at 795. As before, one of the
“primary complications of this case is that the operations in question are, by necessity, ongoing.”
Id. This means that the Court is
faced with a continuing operation that it had concluded would
cause irreparable harm to threatened species. Thus, the district
court [is] confronted with two choices: (1) continue the status quo,
the foundation of which the court had rejected as violative of the
ESA and the continuation of which it had concluded [is likely to]
irreparably harm listed species, or (2) order modifications.
Id. at 796.
The Court intends to order modifications. As discussed in the 2016 Opinion, the listed
species are highly vulnerable for many reasons, including because they have precariously
remained at low abundance for some time, are susceptible to devastating effects from climactic
events, such as occurred in 2015, and are without any survival “cushion” in the 2014 BiOp and
4. Whether Additional Spill is Supported
All parties agree that previously-ordered spill has generated survival benefits and has
been good for salmonid survival. The current dispute lies in whether the benefits of additional
PAGE 14 – OPINION AND ORDER
spill has undergone sufficient study and is sufficiently supported. The parties, intervenors, and
amici provide competing expert declarations discussing the purported benefits and potential
downsides of additional spill. Additionally, the Spill Plaintiffs primarily rely on the Comparative
Survival Study (“CSS”) annual reports, workshops, and other analyses that study and
hypothesize that additional spill will provide significant increased juvenile survival and adult
returns, and Defendants primarily rely on the Independent Scientific Advisory Board’s
(“ISAB”)7 February 20, 2014, review of a spill experiment proposal based on a 2013 CSS study.
The spill experiment proposal reviewed by ISAB involved spill at higher levels than
requested in the current injunction—125 percent of TDG in the tailrace of each dam. The current
request is for 115 percent in the forebay and 120 percent in the tailrace. As the Spill Plaintiffs
point out, the Corps itself has explained that spill at this level is safe:
The GBT monitoring program has consistently shown over the
years of implementation that signs of GBT are minimal when TDG
is managed to the criteria levels of 115/120 percent TDG.
Historically signs of GBT do not approach the action criteria until
TDG levels are near 130 percent supersaturation levels in the
tailraces, or forebays, of dams. The 2013 TDG was managed close
to the 115/120 percent criteria, and the low incidence of signs of
GBT observed this year reflects that management.
ECF 2165-4 at 14 (Bowles Reply Decl. Ex. 8 at 14).
Additionally, a close review of ISAB’s critique shows that ISAB’s primary concern was
that the spill experiment proposal was not a detailed study with a hypothesis, study design,
consideration of various approaches, updated data, monitoring, and adaptive management. See
ECF 2146 (ISAB report). ISAB concluded that it lacked sufficient information to answer basic
questions regarding the study, such as whether it had an adequately researched hypothesis. Id.
ISAB serves NOAA Fisheries and others by providing independent scientific advice and
recommendations regarding relevant scientific issues.
PAGE 15 – OPINION AND ORDER
at 97 (report at 4). The underlying concept that increased spill may well benefit salmonids,
however, was not rejected. To the contrary, ISAB noted:
Despite these concerns with the statistical analyses used to support
implementation of the spill test, it appears that the increased spill
hypothesis stands as a possible candidate for testing. Other changes
to hydrosystem operations have so far been inadequate to meet
SAR targets required to conserve endangered salmon populations,
even with structural changes that have been made at the dams such
as surface spill weirs. It appears that increasing the amount of
water spilled at lower Columbia and Snake River dams has merit
as a hypothesis to test, but additional review of literature and
analysis of data would be worthwhile.
Increasing spill is expected to allow a greater proportion of
migrants to avoid the powerhouse intakes and speed their
migration through forebays.
Id. at 98 (ISAB report at 5). ISAB also stressed the importance of monitoring and adaptive
management in this type of experiment. Id. at 100-101 (ISAB report at 7-8).
Thus, ISAB concluded that additional spill appears to have merit and is worth testing.
ISAB is not alone in this conclusion. Others, in addition to the CSS, have similarly called for
increasing spill, or at least for testing increased spill. See Howard A. Schaller, et al., Evaluating
River Management During Seaward Migration to Recover Columbia River Stream-type Chinook
Salmon Considering the Variation in Marine Conditions, Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. Vol. 71 (2014)
(“Our study highlights the importance of considering river management options in face of
variable ocean conditions for Snake River Chinook salmon. In particular, our retrospective SRI
[survival rate index] regression results, and those of Petrosky and Schaller (2010) and Haeseker
et al. (2012) suggest that hydrosystem-related direct and delayed mortality may be reduced
substantially through actions (e.g. spill, surface passage, increases in water velocity through
drawdown, or dam removal) that reduce the number of powerhouse passages, speed water
velocity, and juvenile migrations, as well as reduce reliance on juvenile collection and
PAGE 16 – OPINION AND ORDER
transportation. . . . A practical management experiment would be to evaluate increasing managed
spill levels at the dams during the spring migration period and evaluate the population responses
on the results of empirical survival estimates (Haeseker et al. 2012).”) (NMFS037802); Steven L.
Haeseker, et al., Assessing Freshwater and Marine Environmental Influences on Life-StageSpecific Survival Rates of Snake River Spring-Summer Chinook Salmon and Steelhead,
Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 141:1, 121-38 (2012) (“In conclusion, the
models that were developed for characterizing variation in overall life cycle morality rates
indicate that increases in spill levels and reductions in water transit times are expected to
increase stage-specific survival rates . . . as well as cumulative smolt-to-adult survival rates.
Across a range of ocean conditions, higher spill levels and reductions in water transit time are
expected to result in higher SARs than would occur with lower spill levels and higher water
transit times. . . . These predictions would provide quantitative, testable hypotheses on the
predicted survival responses that could occur under a true adaptive management experiment
conducted within the FCRPS, where spill and water transit times are extended beyond the range
of available data and the resulting survival rates are monitored to determine whether the expected
increases are realized.”) (NMFS012460); C.E. Petrosky and H.A. Schaller, Influence of River
Conditions During Seaward Migration and Ocean Conditions on Survival Rates of Snake River
Chinook Salmon and Steelhead, Ecology of Freshwater Fish 19:520-36 (2010) (“Given
projections for degrading ocean conditions (i.e., global warming), our analysis suggests that a
precautionary management approach would focus on improving in-river migration conditions by
reducing WTT [water travel time], relying on increased spill to reduce passage through
powerhouse turbines and collection/bypass systems, or other actions that would increase water
PAGE 17 – OPINION AND ORDER
velocity, reduce delay at dams and substantially reduce FTT [fish travel time] through the
Despite these widespread calls for testing increased spill, the Federal Defendants do not
appear to have crafted any such experiment. At oral argument, counsel for the Federal
Defendants indicated that in response to the 2016 Opinion, they “heard the Court,” are moving
forward to “solve these issues,” have been “prodded” in the direction of additional spill, and thus
additional spill may be considered as an action for the next biological opinion. But, as the Court
has repeatedly found over the last 20 years, the listed species are in need of additional survival
protections now. “Kicking the can down the road” after invalidating each of the FCRPS
biological opinions, although necessary under the circumstances of this case, provides little
protection to the listed species that are in an ongoing state of peril. As Judge Redden found
in 2005, however,—over the Federal Defendants, intervenors, and amici’s vigorous objections—
spill is something that can offer immediate survival benefit and is worth trying. That conclusion
by Judge Redden has proven accurate, as all parties now agree. The Court finds it similarly
applicable today, if implemented appropriately.
The Court also finds particularly instructive the Declaration of Bill Tweit, submitted in
support of the State of Washington’s opposition to the requested injunction. Mr. Tweit states that
“there is a growing scientific body of evidence from the decades of data on the beneficial value
of spill at the higher levels seen in recent in years in promoting juvenile survivals and subsequent
adult returns.” ECF 2137 at 2 (Decl. ¶ 2). He continues, noting that “[c]onducting effective
scientific investigations, while also allowing operators and fish managers the latitude to make inseason modifications as necessary to protect out-migrating and returning salmonids from
unforeseen circumstances, is complex and requires flexibility.” Id. (Decl. ¶ 3). Mr. Tweit
PAGE 18 – OPINION AND ORDER
recognizes the “increasing consensus among federal, state, and tribal researchers and fish
managers that increased spill has the potential to appreciably increase the probability that Snake
River spring/summer Chinook and steelhead” will attain significant survival improvement. Id.
at 10 (Decl. ¶ 15). He notes that Oregon’s proposal of additional spring spill “is credible, and
deserving of further scientific investigation.” Id. at 10 (Decl. ¶ 16). He adds, however, that it is
problematic in “that it treats spill as a uniform variable at each of the FCRPS dams, but it is well
known that each dam must also be considered individually in designing spill operations,
particularly at the higher levels of spill proposed by Oregon.” Id. He concludes by stating that
“[i]t is prudent to take the time necessary to craft a spill experiment . . . to maximize benefits
[and] minimize costs and impacts” and that “[i]deally, the work to develop a new spill regime
would be scheduled with a goal to implement by the 2018 migration season and carried forward
into a the new bridge biological opinion beginning in 2019[.]” Id. at 13 (Decl. ¶ 23). Thus,
Mr. Tweit (and the State of Washington) did not dispute the science behind the Spill Plaintiffs’
request, only the timing and specific method of implementation.
The concerns expressed by Mr. Tweit are not unique to him. In reviewing the voluminous
record relating to this motion, the Court notes that much of the opposition to the injunction is not
based on a concern that increased spill at the requested level will necessarily harm salmonids, but
instead on “rushing” the process, treating spill at all eight dams the same, and changing the
adaptive management process to one that allows Oregon an operational “veto.” As Ritchie J.
Graves, Chief of the Columbia Hydropower Branch for the NMFS West Coast Region (Interior
Columbia Basin Office) states in his Reply Declaration, he is not opposed to operational studies
to reduce mortality; he is “opposed to ‘rushing’ into an action that could be detrimental to fish or
that would provide no ability to scientifically assess the effectiveness of the action.” ECF 2181
PAGE 19 – OPINION AND ORDER
at 2 (Reply Decl. ¶ 2); see also ECF 2139 at 31 (Graves Decl. ¶ 71) (noting that NMFS is
“prepared to engage our partners through the regional forum process” and others as needed
regarding testing increased spill in a “rigorous” and “thoroughly vetted” manner).
There is nothing in the record to indicate that the current spill level is the precise or
“magic” level that achieves all the possible survival benefits with the minimum of risk. The CSS
analyses support that there will be beneficial effects of increasing spill to the spill caps.
Defendants do not offer similarly scientific studies showing that the CSS analyses are wrong.
Rather they challenge whether the proof relied on by CSS is good enough, properly vetted, or in
the correct format. As the court in Yurok Tribe concluded, however, in response to similar
arguments that evidence of flushing flows was not certain to reduce harm to listed salmon in the
Klamath River and had not been “properly tested through a comprehensive scientific process,”
the ESA does not require perfect knowledge to support an injunction to protect a listed species,
rather it requires action to protect a species consistent with the best available scientific
information. Yurok Tribe, 2017 WL 512845, at *29.
The CSS has studied and described the benefits of increased spill. ISAB and others have
encouraged testing of increased spill. Oregon’s experts describe the benefits of increased spill.
Further, as the State of Washington has acknowledged, there is a growing scientific body of
evidence and growing consensus supporting higher levels of spill. Although Defendants provide
expert testimony expressing concerns regarding increased spill, most of these concerns can be
addressed with an appropriately-tailored injunction. Other expressed concerns are not
appropriate in the context of an injunction under the ESA or the Court finds not as compelling as
the evidence supporting additional spill. Accordingly, the Court concludes that there is sufficient
scientific support for a limited injunction requiring increased spill to benefit the listed species.
PAGE 20 – OPINION AND ORDER
5. Tailored Injunctive Relief
a. Timing for additional spill
The Court has found that the ongoing operation of the FCRPS is likely to cause
irreparable harm to the listed species. This weighs in favor of granting an immediate injunction.
The Court, however, shares many of the concerns raised by Defendants that implementing
increased spill beginning April 3, 2017, is too rushed and does not provide sufficient time to
ensure that the increased spill will not cause unintended negative consequences.
The Court recognizes that concerns for both human safety and the listed species require
calculating appropriate spill patterns in advance of increasing spill. As Defendants describe, the
Corps implements spill using particular spill patterns at each dam, and any change to spill can
change the spill pattern and result in eddies or other flow issues that might delay or preclude
juveniles from downstream migration, prevent adults from upstream migration, and negatively
affect navigation through the lock systems.
The Corps has a testing facility in Vicksburg, Mississippi—the Engineer Research and
Development Center (“ERDC”). This facility contains scale models of all eight dams and
provides the ability to test spill patterns resulting from increased spill. These models also allow
testing of spill patterns and flow to determine effects on navigation and the lock systems of the
dams, particularly with regard to tug and barge tows. See ECF 2154 at 5-6 (Decl. of Robert Rich
¶ 16). Testing at the ERDC can be time-consuming because there are other agencies that use the
facility, so one has to get “in the queue;” further, the models have to be repaired or rebuilt, and
there are trial-and-error periods of testing spill patterns to find the pattern that is most
advantageous. See id. at 6 (¶¶ 18-19). Delaying the increase in spill until the 2018 spring
migration season provides time for testing and development of appropriate spill patterns that will
maximize juvenile migration, minimize harm to juveniles, minimize harm to adult migration, and
PAGE 21 – OPINION AND ORDER
protect human life in the navigation system.8 Intervenor-Defendant Inland Ports and Navigation
conceded at oral argument that delaying the increased spill injunction until 2018 would resolve
its concerns regarding human safety. The Federal Defendants conceded that delaying until 2018
would resolve concerns regarding having enough time to test for appropriate spill patterns.
The Court also recognizes that each dam is unique and an “across-the-board” approach to
spill is likely not the most effective means to increase salmonid survival at each dam. There are
specific considerations at each dam that affect both juvenile and adult migration, and providing
time to study and prepare for the increase in spill will allow proper analyses on the best
methodology for each dam. Additionally, it also allows sufficient time to consider whether there
may be other unintended negative consequences unrelated to salmonid survival, such as the
concern expressed with erosion relating to Bonneville Dam.
The Spill Plaintiffs have shown a willingness for spill to be tailored to the needs of each
dam as Defendants have raised specific concerns (e.g., offering to reduce requested spill at
Bonneville to avoid erosion and at John Day to avoid causing an eddy). The problem with this
approach is that Defendants have been raising these concerns in a rushed period while briefing
the pending motion. There needs to be sufficient time to identify, test, and address the damspecific spill needs and issues. Although the Court intends to provide for a robust adaptive
management program to allow flexibility to respond to such unintended consequences, having
adequate time to prepare beforehand should reduce the number and extent of unintended
negative consequences and thus will reduce the number of fish that die while awaiting changes to
be implemented under adaptive management.
The Court notes that there must be a way safely to handle navigation during increased
spill because there have been times when involuntary spill has been required at levels equal to or
greater than those requested by the Spill Plaintiffs.
PAGE 22 – OPINION AND ORDER
b. Adaptive management
The Spill Plaintiffs request a new system of adaptive management in which the Corps
may make unilateral adjustments to spill under certain involuntary spill conditions and can only
make spill adjustment for biological conditions if no member of the FPAC objects. The Court is
not inclined at this time to order a new system for implementation, monitoring, and adaptive
management of additional court-ordered spill. As explained by Juliet H. Ammann, Chief,
Reservoir Control Center, Northwestern Division of the Corps, there is a system currently in
place that has been implementing existing court-ordered spill. See ECF 2140 at 7-9 (Decl. ¶¶ 1622). This system includes the Fish Passage Operations and Maintenance group, Technical
Management Team (“TMT”), and Regional Implementation Oversight Group (“RIOG”).
Specifically, TMT is tasked with recommending real-time operations through monitoring river
conditions and provides opportunities for making adjustments. Id. at 8 (Decl. ¶ 20). TMT can
submit requests to consider changes to planned operations, and if consensus is not reached,
RIOG will resolve the issue. Id. at 9 (Decl. ¶ 21). The Court also remains available to the parties.
The Spill Plaintiffs offer no evidence that the current system is not sufficiently working
to be able to implement additional spill. The Spill Plaintiffs express concern that minority voices
need the opportunity to be heard and that current decisionmakers are more policy-focused than
science-driven. This latter concern was also echoed by Defendant-Intervenor CSRIA. The Court
appreciates that there may be a different system that could be implemented that would include
more scientists. But the Court leaves such decisions in the first instance to be made by the
experts in the region. Accordingly, at this time, the Court declines to mandate that adaptive
management be through a system requiring unanimity among the members of the FPAC. The
parties shall confer on an appropriate adaptive management system. If agreement is not reached,
the Court will leave the current system (using TMT and RIOG) in place. If, after additional spill
PAGE 23 – OPINION AND ORDER
begins, the Spill Plaintiffs or any other party has evidence that the current system is not working,
that party may then file a motion with the Court.
c. Spill implementation plan and injunction order
Because the Court is not ordering increased spill to begin until the spring 2018 migration
season, the parties and experts in the region have sufficient time to consider an appropriate
protocol and methodology for spill at each dam, incorporating the most beneficial spill patterns.
Moreover, the Federal Defendants argue that the Spill Plaintiffs’ proposed injunction is
inappropriate because no shorter-term, within season tests have been performed on any of the
dams using increased spill. Now the Federal Defendants have the 2017 spring migration season
to conduct short-term tests to consider at least the immediate effects of increased spill. They can
evaluate whether unexpected eddies or other problems arise and make immediate adjustments
without worrying about being in violation of a court order. These types of tests should inform the
experts in the region as they develop appropriate protocols for increased spill in 2018.
The Court will set periodic status conferences to ensure that the parties are making
sufficient progress toward a spill implementation plan and proposed injunction order. The Court
expects the parties, amici, and other regional experts to work together to reach consensus. If the
parties cannot reach agreement, the Court will set a briefing schedule and further hearings to
resolve any outstanding issues before the 2018 spring migration season.
6. PIT Tag Monitoring
The Spill Plaintiffs assert that there are some indicators that certain listed species are
migrating early. The Spill Plaintiffs request that the Federal Defendants begin PIT tag
monitoring on March 1 of each year, using established smolt monitoring protocols. The Spill
Plaintiffs argue that early monitoring will provide data regarding the important early “tail” of the
salmon and steelhead runs, which will help inform future management decisions. The Spill
PAGE 24 – OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs offer expert testimony that early monitoring will provide a biological benefit by
providing an alternative to turbine passage for outmigrating fish during the pre-spill period and
that the early and late tails of a run are particularly important for species diversity. The State of
Washington, through its expert Mr. Tweit, agrees that the proposal for earlier PIT tag monitoring
“should be considered for immediate implementation. There is strong scientific evidence that the
tails of salmon and steelhead runs contain a disproportionate amount of the population traits that
support adaptation to environmental changes, such as the conditions witnessed in 2015.
Collection of this additional data should begin now . . . .” ECF 2137 at 11 (Decl. ¶ 17).
Defendants do not dispute that early and late tails of a run are important for diversity. Nor
do they dispute that there is some evidence that fish are migrating earlier, although they do
question the volume of fish that may be migrating early. The primary objections to early PIT tag
monitoring are that it is not feasible to begin in 2017 and that Oregon should have made this
request through the regional process and not through the Court.
The Court agrees that it is too late this year to begin earlier PIT tag monitoring in 2017.
But in light of the importance of the tails of a run for diversity and species adaptation, the Court
orders that PIT tag monitoring begin on March 1 of each year of the remand period, beginning
D. NEPA Injunction
Plaintiffs argue that the Court should enjoin large capital expenditures at the four Lower
Snake River dams because to allow significant sums of money to be spent in long-term
investments at the dams for the remaining 4.5 years of the NEPA remand period may result in
biased analyses that essentially foreclose the reasonable alternative of breaching, bypassing, or
removing dams. Plaintiffs rely primarily on two provisions in NEPA’s implementing regulations,
40 C.F.R. §§ 1502.2(f) and 1506.1(a). Section 1502.2(f) provides that: “Agencies shall not
PAGE 25 – OPINION AND ORDER
commit resources prejudicing selection of alternatives before making a final decision.”
Section 1506.1(a) provides that: “Until an agency issues a record of decision as provided in
§ 1505.2 . . . no action concerning the proposal shall be taken which would: (1) Have an adverse
environmental impact; or (2) Limit the choice of reasonable alternatives.”
The Court will not enjoin any spending that is necessary for the safe operation of any
dam. Regardless of the NEPA process, the Federal Defendants are currently under a statutory
obligation to operate the dams and must be allowed to operate them safely. The Court finds that
any benefit to the NEPA process in enjoining spending may be outweighed by the risk to human
health and safety if dams are not allowed to continue operating in a safe manner. With regard to
projects and expenditures that are not required for safe dam operations, however, the Court
considers the factors for interim injunctive relief.
1. Success on the Merits
In the 2016 Opinion, the Court found that the Corps and BOR violated NEPA and
remanded the case for the agencies to create a single EIS covering FCRPS operations. Thus,
Plaintiffs have already succeeded on their underlying NEPA claim.
2. Irreparable Harm
The harm that Plaintiffs seek to redress with this injunction is a biased NEPA process.
The Court agrees that generally speaking, this type of harm can be irreparable harm for purposes
of a NEPA injunction. The Court is persuaded by the reasoning in Sierra Club v. Marsh, 872
F.2d 497, 500 (1st Cir. 1989), which discusses what is sometimes described as the “bureaucratic
steamroller” or “bureaucratic momentum” theory, as follows:
NEPA is not designed to prevent all possible harm to the
environment; it foresees that decisionmakers may choose to inflict
such harm, for perfectly good reasons. Rather, NEPA is designed
to influence the decisionmaking process; its aim is to make
government officials notice environmental considerations and take
PAGE 26 – OPINION AND ORDER
them into account. Thus, when a decision to which NEPA
obligations attach is made without the informed environmental
consideration that NEPA requires, the harm that NEPA intends to
prevent has been suffered. . . . Moreover, to set aside the agency’s
action at a later date will not necessarily undo the harm. The
agency as well as private parties may well have become committed
to the previously chosen course of action, and new information—a
new EIS—may bring about a new decision, but it is that much less
likely to bring about a different one. It is far easier to influence an
initial choice than to change a mind already made up.
It is appropriate for the courts to recognize this type of injury in a
NEPA case, for it reflects the very theory upon which NEPA is
based—a theory aimed at presenting governmental decisionmakers with relevant environmental data before they commit
themselves to a course of action. This is not to say that a likely
NEPA violation automatically calls for an injunction; the balance
of harms may point the other way. It is simply to say that a
plaintiff seeking an injunction cannot be stopped at the threshold
by pointing to additional steps between the governmental decision
and environmental harm.
In the present case plaintiffs would suffer harm if they were denied
an injunction, if the lease sale took place, and if the court then held
that a supplemental EIS was required. In that event, the successful
oil companies would have committed time and effort to planning
the development of the blocks they had leased, and the Department
of the Interior and the relevant state agencies would have begun to
make plans based upon the leased tracts. Each of these events
represents a link in a chain of bureaucratic commitment that will
become progressively harder to undo the longer it continues. Once
large bureaucracies are committed to a course of action, it is
difficult to change that course—even if new, or more thorough,
NEPA statements are prepared and the agency is told to
“redecide.” It is this type of harm that plaintiffs seek to avoid, and
it is the presence of this type of harm that courts have said can
merit an injunction in an appropriate case.
Id. at 500 (quoting Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Watt, 716 F.2d 946, 952-53 (1st
Cir. 1983) (emphasis added in Marsh)); see also Friends of the Earth v. Hall, 693 F. Supp. 904,
913 (W.D. Wash. 1988) (noting that “the risk of bias resulting from the commitment of resources
prior to a required thorough environmental review is the type of irreparable harm that results
from a NEPA violation”); cf. Calvert Cliffs’ Coordinating Comm. v. Atomic Energy
PAGE 27 – OPINION AND ORDER
Comm’n, 449 F.2d 1109, 1128 (D.C. Cir. 1971) (noting that where large investments affect the
NEPA analysis, the NEPA process becomes a “hollow exercise”).
Although the Ninth Circuit has not yet expressly adopted the “bureaucratic steamroller”
theory, other district courts in this circuit have found it persuasive. For example, in Protecting
Arizona’s Res. & Children (“PARC”) v. Fed. Highway Admin., 2015 WL 12618411 (D. Ariz.
July 28, 2015), the court concluded that “under Marsh, the Court may consider bureaucratic
momentum as a factor in assessing whether environmental harm is likely to occur based on
failure to comply with NEPA procedures.” Id. at *5.
Moreover, the Ninth Circuit has found that financial commitment can constitute an
irretrievable commitment of resources for purposes of NEPA. See Wildwest Inst. v. Bull, 547
F.3d 1162, 1169 (9th Cir. 2008). In Wildwest, the Ninth Circuit analyzed what it means for an
agency to take an action that limits the agency’s choice of alternatives, which is prohibited
under 40 C.F.R. § 1506.1(a). Id. at 1168-69. The court analogized this provision to the provisions
that trigger when an EIS must be completed. Id. at 1168. In those cases, the court had interpreted
an EIS as being required only when an agency has “irreversibly and irretrievably” committed
resources. Id. (citing Metcalf v. Daley, 214 F.3d at 1143 (9th Cir. 2000).
In Wildwest, the Ninth Circuit discussed how, in cases analyzing when the need for an
EIS has been triggered, the commitment of resources was generally natural resources. Id.
at 1168-69 (discussing Metcalf, 214 F.3d at 1144; Friends of Southeast’s Future v. Morrison,
153 F.3d 1059, 1063-64 (9th Cir. 1998); Conner v. Burford, 848 F.2d 1441, 1446, 1449 (9th Cir.
1988)). It is not surprising that, in cases addressing when an EIS is triggered, the primary issue
would often involve a commitment relating to natural resources. NEPA requires an EIS for major
federal actions that significantly affect the quality of the human environment. 42 U.S.C.
PAGE 28 – OPINION AND ORDER
§ 4332(2)(C). The Ninth Circuit in Wildwest extended this line of reasoning from the cases
discussing when an agency commitment is sufficient to trigger the need for an EIS to when an
agency commitment is sufficient to limit its alternatives under 40 C.F.R. § 1506.1(a). 547 F.3d at
1168-69. Thus, the Ninth Circuit held that an agency’s “irreversible and irretrievable”
commitment of resources may limit its alternatives under Section 1506.1(a). Id. In doing so, the
court concluded that financial investment alone can, in some circumstances, be an irreversible
and irretrievable commitment of resources. Id. at 1169.
Defendants argue that tens of millions of dollars cannot rise to the level of commitment
required by Wildwest because the Ninth Circuit mentioned, by way of example, a commitment of
all or most of an agency’s limited budget in preparation for only one alternative. That is
unavailing for two reasons. First, the Ninth Circuit was providing only one example of when a
financial commitment may be considered limiting an agency’s alternatives, and there is no
indication that example was meant to be exclusive.
Second, the discussion by the Ninth Circuit in Wildwest does not mean that a similar level
of commitment is required under 40 C.F.R. § 1502.2(f), which prohibits agencies from
“prejudicing” the selection of alternatives. The Court must give meaning to the fact that the
agency used the term “prejudicing” in § 1502.2(f) and “limiting” in § 1506.1(a). Cf. Nat’l Fed’n
of Indep. Business v. Sebelius, 132 S. Ct. 2566, 2583 (2012) (noting in the context of statutory
interpretation that “[w]here Congress uses certain language in one part of a statute and different
language in another, it is generally presumed that Congress acts intentionally”). If “prejudicing”
alternatives is construed identically as “limiting” alternatives in § 1506.1(a), then § 1502.2(f)
would be superfluous. This is contrary to “the canon of construction that courts interpret statutes
so as not to render any section meaningless.” Meng Li v. Eddy, 324 F.3d 1109, 1110 (9th
PAGE 29 – OPINION AND ORDER
Cir. 2003) (citing Beck v. Prupis, 529 U.S. 494, 506 (2000)); see also United States v.
Harrell, 637 F.3d 1008, 1010-11 (9th Cir. 2011) (noting that courts must give effect to each
word and “must ‘mak[e] every effort not to interpret a provision in a manner that renders other
provisions of the same statute inconsistent, meaningless or superfluous’” (alteration in original)
(quoting United States v. Cabaccang, 332 F.3d 622, 627 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc))).
The term “limiting” connotes a more definitive restriction than does “prejudicing.” See
BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (10th ed. 2014) (defining “limit” as: “1. A restriction or restraint.
2. A boundary or defining line. 3. The extent of power, right, or authority.” and defining
“prejudice” as “1. Damage or detriment to one’s legal rights or claims. . . . 2. A preconceived
judgment or opinion formed with little or no factual basis; a strong and unreasonable dislike or
distrust. — Also termed preconception.” (emphasis in original)). Thus, the level of commitment
required to “limit” an agency’s alternatives is higher than the level commitment required to
“prejudice” an agency’s alternatives. Accordingly, even if it were required for an agency to
spend most or all of its budget on one alternative before it could be found to violate § 1506.1(a)
(which the Court does not find is necessitated by the holding in Wildwest), the Court holds that a
lesser commitment may nonetheless violate § 1502.2(f).
The Court noted in the 2016 Opinion that a compliant NEPA analysis in this case “may
well require consideration of the reasonable alternative of breaching, bypassing, or removing one
or more of the four Lower Snake River Dams.” NMFS V, 184 F. Supp. 3d at 942. The
“touchstone” of NEPA’s alternatives analysis is whether the EIS’s “selection and discussion of
alternatives fosters informed decision-making and informed public participation.” Headwaters,
Inc. v. Bureau of Land Mgmt., Medford Dist., 914 F.2d 1174, 1180 (9th Cir. 1990) (quotation
marks omitted). The reality is that economic considerations are part of that decisionmaking. In
PAGE 30 – OPINION AND ORDER
weighing the environmental benefits of removing, breaching, or bypassing the dams, the costs of
such actions also likely will be weighed, as well as the costs of operating the dams. That analysis
will be affected if the dams require hundreds of millions in expenditures versus having just had
hundreds of millions spent in improvements and maintenance. Considering this fact, the
“bureaucratic momentum” theory, the constraints on the Corps dictated by § 1506.1(a), and the
limitations on the Corps’ actions placed by § 1502.2(f), the Court finds that spending hundreds,
tens, or even millions of dollars on the four Lower Snake River Dams during the NEPA remand
period is likely to cause irreparable harm by creating a significant risk of bias in the NEPA
process. See, e.g., Wildwest, 547 F.3d at 1169; Marsh, 872 F.2d at 500; Calvert Cliffs’, 449 F.2d
at 1128; Hall, 693 F. Supp. at 913.
3. Balancing the Harms and Considering the Public Interest
a. Current Ice Harbor Projects
Plaintiffs challenge two projects at Ice Harbor Dam: Ice Harbor Turbine Runner Design
and Replacement and Ice Harbor Stator Winding Replacement. These projects are estimated to
cost $37 million in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Plaintiffs challenge the replacements at two
turbines, Units 1 and 3. Plaintiffs do not challenge improvements being made to Unit 2.
Unit 2, which is not being challenged, is being improved with state-of-the-art
nonadjustable blades that are designed to improve fish survival. This design, however, is not
suitable at all hydraulic flow levels. Thus, at certain hydraulic flows, Unit 2 cannot operate.
Currently, Unit 3 also has nonadjustable blades, due to interim repairs that were previously
required. Unit 3 thus cannot be the backup unit when hydraulic flows do not allow Unit 2 to
Unit 1 is the operative adjustable blade unit. Unit 1, however, has had failures in recent
years. Thus, if it is not replaced, as currently scheduled, it will at a minimum need repair. The
PAGE 31 – OPINION AND ORDER
replacement, however, is with an improved adjustable blade design that is intended to increase
juvenile fish survival. If the expected improved fish passage is realized, the Corps intends to
implement the new design in other FCRPS dams.
Unit 3 also has had failures in recent years. The interim repairs done to keep the turbine
operating potentially increase the harm to fish passage and result in less efficient operation.
Additionally, even with interim repairs, the turbine performs poorly and needs replacement.
The Court recognizes the importance of an unbiased NEPA process and the chance for all
reasonable alternatives to be considered without undue economic influence. These specific Ice
Harbor Dam projects, however, have a primary benefit of increasing fish survival. As the Court
has repeatedly noted, including in this Opinion and Order in discussing increased spill, the fish
are in need of improved survival now. Improvements at Ice Harbor Dam that result in immediate
increased survival of listed species are given great weight in balancing the harms and considering
the public interest. Cottonwood, 789 F.3d at 1090 (noting that saving endangered species is given
the highest priority and is of incalculable public interest). Although the Court has found likely
irreparable harm from significant expenditures, in considering these specific projects, the Court
finds that the balance of harms and public interest weighs against the specific injunction being
requested. See Marsh, 872 F.2d at 500 (noting that even when irreparable harm is found, it does
not necessitate an injunction because “the balance of harms may point the other way” (emphasis
b. Future Projects
The Court cannot evaluate the balance of harms or public interest in unknown future
projects. As the Court has noted, it will not enjoin projects that are needed for the safe operation
of the dams. The Court also is not inclined to enjoin projects that provide substantial immediate
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survival improvement for the listed species. Thus, the Court does not find a blanket injunction
against all future projects of more than $ 1 million to be appropriate.
The Court, however, is concerned with the potential for the irreparable harm that the
Court has found likely. Accordingly, the Court will require the Federal Defendants to disclose
sufficient information to Plaintiffs regarding the planned projects at each dam during the NEPA
remand period, at appropriate and regular intervals. If Plaintiffs believe that a project is not
needed for safe operation of the dams and substantially may bias the NEPA process, Plaintiffs
may file a new motion with the Court to enjoin any such project.
Within 14 days from the date of this Opinion and Order, the Federal Defendants, after
conferring with Plaintiffs, shall submit their proposal for a reasonable process and schedule for
providing Plaintiffs the information, including timing (quarterly, annually, etc.) and what
information should be included in their disclosure to Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs may, at their discretion,
file any response or objection within 14 days. Defendants may then have 14 days to reply.
The motions for injunctive relief requested by Plaintiffs, including Oregon, (ECF 2112
and 2114) are GRANTED IN PART, as set forth in this Opinion and Order. The Court intends to
hold periodic status conferences regarding the increased spill that must take place in 2018 and its
related planning before then. Within 28 days, the parties shall confer and file with the Court their
joint or separate recommendations for a schedule of periodic status conferences.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED this 27th day of March, 2017.
/s/ Michael H. Simon
Michael H. Simon
United States District Judge
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