No man is an IIand, intire of itselfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
The law of "standing" in environmental disputes appears to be resting on its last legs, and well it should be. Arguably, standing's fate has been sealed since its conception in the 1970s. Now, approximately a quarter of a century later, standing is on the verge of collapsing onto its weak intellectual foundation. The standing doctrine is that part of the "law of judicial jurisdiction" that "determines whom a court may hear make arguments about the legality of an official decision." Almost twenty years ago, Joseph Vining viewed standing with "a sense of intellectual crisis." In the years since, that intellectual crisis has grown. The Supreme Court's recent decision in Bennett v. Spear reflects one aspect of how this crisis has become too unwieldy. As such, the Bennett decision either marks a turning point in the treatment of standing in environmental cases or, in conjunction with other looming issues, highlights the need for the Court to reconsider the prudential and constitutional aspects of the doctrine of standing. Anything less will leave the law of standing in environ mental cases in disarray.
The law of standing consists of both constitutional and prudential components. In order to satisfy the constitutional requirement for standing under Article III of the United States Constitution, which limits federal courts to deciding "cases" or "controversies," a party must suffer an "injury in fact" from a governmental action, and that injury must be fairly traceable to the challenged action and redressible by a favorable decision. To suffer an injury in fact, the plaintiff must be among those injured by the action. The prudential aspect of standing is somewhat a misnomer because it reflects the Court's interpretation or "gloss" on section 10 of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which allows parties who are "adversely affected or aggrieved by [Federal] agency action within the meaning of a relevant statute" to seek judicial review. The Court developed the "zone of interests" test to serve as a guide for determining when, "in view of Congress' evident intent to make agency action presumptively reviewable, a particular plaintiff should be heard to complain of a particular agency decision." This zone of interests test requires that "a plaintiff's grievance must arguably fall within the zone of interests protected or regulated by the statutory provision or constitutional guarantee invoked in the suit."
This article argues that the Supreme Court's standing decisions, employing the above requirements in environmental disputes, have been flawed. Those flaws have led to considerable confusion and disagreement among the lower federal courts on how to apply the rules of standing, primarily in cases involving the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The article concludes that those flaws are so serious and fundamental that the law of standing in environmental cases can only be rescued if the original principles are revisited. Going back to original principles entails reexamining the justification for both the zone of interests test and the requirements for Article III standing. Neither the zone of interests test nor the Court's current articulation of the Article III standing requirements can appropriately or even logically define the group of litigants entitled to bring lawsuits claiming violations of the ESA or NEPA. While the Court's recent decision in Bennett v. Spear may signal a limited future, if any, for the zone of interests test in many environmental cases, a similar fate should await the Article III standing requirements as they are presently applied. The need for litigants, particularly environmental organizations, to show that they or one of their members is personally injured can no longer serve as a viable and intellectually honest requirement for environmental cases, at least for those cases brought under NEPA or the ESA.
II.CITIZEN ACCESS TO THE COURTS
Not until the 1960s did litigants begin to view the courts as possibly objective arbiters in environmental disputes. During those years, a doctrinal shift began to take place that recognized the role of citizens and courts in the administration of governmental programs. This development in administrative law was seen by many as a victory in the effort to cast aside the private or common law model that had dominated for so many years. Previously, in both private or public disputes, courts generally applied the private law model that required that the plaintiff establish a "legal interest," which effectively limited standing to those with an economic interest:
At both private and public law, the question was not whether the litigant was harmed or whether the governmental or non-governmental defendant acted unlawfully, but whether the government breached some duty owed to the litigant. If the litigant had no common-law interest at stake—if it was not the "object" of the regulation—courts saw no legal duty suitable for legal redress.However, once beneficiaries of regulatory programs began to convince courts of their right to seek judicial review of agency decisions on a par with those being regulated (such as the objects of the regulation), the private law model of a "legal interest" appeared problematic. Citizens who benefited by having an effective regulatory program could solicit help from the judiciary to control allegedly aberrant administrative behavior but could not claim a violation of any legal interest or express duty owed to them specifically. In 1970, therefore, the Supreme Court abandoned requiring a legal interest for cases brought under the APA.0 In Association of Data Processing Service Organizations v. Camp1 and Barlow v. Collins, the Court broadened the class of those entitled to seek judicial review under the APA to include a party with an injury in fact that is "arguably within the zone of interest" protected by the statutory or constitutional provision at issue. These decisions offered the potential for increased citizen access to the courts, viewed by many as an important mechanism for avoiding what has been called "regulatory capture." Dan Tarlock observed that in the environmental area, "Professor Sax provided the most coherent justification for creative lawyers," in that Sax "attempted to reconcile environmental law precepts with New Deal administrative law and separation of powers principles." Joseph Sax explained that citizen participation and judicial involvement are consistent with our tripartite constitutional system and serve as an important check on how agencies evaluate and respond to environmental issues.
This doctrinal shift occurred as the courthouse doors began to open for environmental disputes. Parties who had once attempted to use devices such as qui tam lawsuits to abate pollution now focused on other statutory programs, such as the environmental impact state ment (EIS) requirement under NEPA and the United States Army Corps of Engineers' permitting program under the Refuse Act to control discharges of pollution into our nation's waterways, a program soon overtaken by the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA). In the same year as the first Earth Day, Congress in the 1970 Clean Air Act (CAA) authorized citizen suits, a now accepted component of environmental legislation. These and other developments gave environmental advocates hope that environmental concerns would become part of the "public law."
The early 1970s, therefore, offered considerable promise for environmental groups to supervise possibly captive regulatory agencies by taking their concerns to court. NEPA provided the groups with a legally identifiable opportunity to question federal agency decisions and, if necessary, to litigate. Coupled with the APA, NEPA offered the promise of a federal judicial forum unencumbered by old private law model requirements. Additionally, precedent existed for the argument that parties interested in protecting the environment had a cognizable interest sufficient to allow them to maintain a lawsuit. As early as 1943, Judge Jerome Frank interpreted language allowing "aggrieved" persons to seek judicial review as embracing a private attorney general theory. Less than twenty years later, Judge Bazelon echoed a similar theme when the Environmental Defense Fund challenged a federal agency action under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, with the injury described as the Sbiological harm to man and to other living things resulting from the Secretary's failure to take action which would restrict the use of DDT in the environment." Citing a variety of earlier cases, Judge Bazelon wrote that "[c]onsumers of regulated products and services have standing to protect the public interest in the proper administration of a regulatory system enacted for their benefit. The interest asserted in such a challenge to admin istrative action need not be economic." In the same year that Judge Bazelon handed down Hardin, Kenneth Culp Davis, the leading commentator on administrative law, argued that the law of standing had just been liberalized by four Supreme Court decisions from 1968 to 1970. Davis added that in doing so, the Court had left the law of standing in "turmoil."
III.AN EMERGING BARRIER TO THE COURTHOUSE A.Sierra Club v. Morton
Against this background, the Sierra Club waged its challenge to the Forest Service's proposed activities in the Mineral King Valley of California and in the process launched the modern law of environmental standing. In Sierra Club v. Morton, a plurality of the Court established three principles that would guide the law of standing in environmental cases for the next twenty-five years. First, the Court held that the type of injury to support standing could be non-economic, that is, harm to the aesthetics and ecology of an area are sufficient interests to constitute a cognizable injury. Second, the Court rejected the "notion that an injury that is widely shared is ipso facto not an injury sufficient to provide the basis for judicial review." Finally, and most importantly, the Court limited the first two principles with a requirement that the plaintiff provide sufficient "allegations of individualized injury."
Nestled between the Sequoia National Park and the Sequoia National Forest, Mineral King Valley offered great promise for commercial and recreational development. This scenic valley located within the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California was the site of an old mining village, and when Congress established the national park in 1890, it excluded the mining area, which became part of the national forest. By the 1960s, many considered Mineral King as possibly becoming one of the country's premier skiing areas, and the United States Forest Service sought bids for the development of a recreational facility at Mineral King. Walt Disney was the successful bidder, and over the next few years Disney developed plans for a resort on a grand scale, exceeding previous expectations. The Disney plan ultimately contemplated accommodations for 3,310 visitors, parking for approximately the same number of vehicles, twenty-two ski lifts, an ability to handle at one time 20,000 skiers, a restaurant capacity of over 2,000 people, and an expected visitation rate of over one million people per year. This master plan included construction of a new highway to accommodate visitors, as well as installation of a transmission line to carry electric power to the resort. Construction of the highway and transmission line required the approval of the National Park Service (Park Service), whose property had to be crossed to gain effective access to the valley. Less than a year after the Park Service reluctantly agreed to support a permit for crossing its land, and shortly before a scheduled meeting between the Park Service and the California Highway Department, the Sierra Club filed suit for injunctive relief. In its complaint, the Sierra Club argued that the authorization for Disney to develop a resort violated Mineral King's status as a game refuge and that the Park Service lacked the statutory authority to grant a permit to construct roads through park property.
The Sierra Club obtained a preliminary injunction from the district court, but when the case proceeded to the Ninth Circuit, the Sierra Club's standing became the primary issue. The Sierra Club relied upon the notion that it had standing because the Sierra Club was acting as a private attorney general, a concept for which adequate precedent had been developed. Indeed, Judge Moore of the Second Circuit relied on this argument when he concluded that "the public interest in environmental resources—an interest created by statutes affecting the issuance of this permit [under the Rivers and Harbors Act]—is a legally protected interest affording these plaintiffs, as responsible representatives of the public, standing to obtain judicial review of agency action alleged to be in contravention of that public interest." However, Judge Trask of the Ninth Circuit was not receptive to this public organization standing theory. Judge Trask distinguished the cases the district court relied upon when it allowed public organization standing, as well as other recent standing cases, and concluded that the Sierra Club lacked standing because the Sierra Club did not allege that either it or its members had a sufficient interest such that the Club or its members were "aggrieved" or "'adversely affected' within the meaning of the rules of standing."
A plurality of the Supreme Court sided with Judge Trask, although the opinion failed to articulate any justification for what has since become the requirement for an "individualized injury." The Court began its analysis by asking whether the Sierra Club alleged facts entitling the case to judicial review. Next, the Court examined whether the Sierra Club alleged facts to show that it had a Ssufficient stake in an otherwise justiciable controversy." Quoting from Baker v. Carr, a case decided before the Court "liberalized" the law of standing, the Court converted "sufficient stake" into a "personal stake in the outcome of the controversy." In doing so, the Court overlooked its own statement that the requirement for a "personal stake" only applies when the party does not rely on any specific statute authorizing judicial review. Here, the Court correctly described the Sierra Club as relying on section 10 of the APA. The Court recognized that section 10 granted the Sierra Club the right to judicial review if the organization is, inter alia, "adversely affected or aggrieved by agency action within the meaning of a relevant statute." The appropriate question then became whether the Sierra Club was "adversely affected or aggrieved," a test the Court concluded requires a showing of "injury in fact." The Court adopted the injury in fact requirement from two cases, Association of Data Processing Service Organizations, Inc. v. Camp2 and Barlow v. Collins. However, the Court did not, in either of those cases, "address itself to the question, which has arisen with increasing frequency in federal courts in recent years, as to what must be alleged by persons who claim injury of a noneconomic nature to interests that are widely shared." The Court closed this purported gap by holding that noneconomic injuries can satisfy the "injury in fact" requirement as follows:
We do not question that [the type of harm identified by the Sierra Club] may amount to an "injury in fact" sufficient to lay the basis for standing under § 10 of the APA. Aesthetic and environmental well-being, like economic well-being, are important ingredients of the quality of life in our society, and the fact that particular environmental interests are shared by the many rather than the few does not make them less deserving of legal protection through the judicial process.Without any further support, the Court added that the injury in fact test requires more than an injury to a "cognizable interest." Justice Stewart required "the party seeking review be himself among the injured." The additional requirement of personalized injury contradicts the Court's assertion that a "personal stake" in the outcome is not necessary where Congress has authorized judicial review, as with the APA. In effect, under the APA, the Court superimposed the same test that would apply if Congress had not authorized judicial review.
Next, the Court responded to the Sierra Club's challenge to the personalized injury requirement, concluding with an unsupported assertion that "the party seeking review must himself have suffered an injury." The Court rejected the argument that the Sierra Club should be able to bring a "public action" as if it were acting as a "private attorney general," but the Court's reasoning appears circular. The Court interpreted prior decisions as only allowing parties with a statutory right to seek review to argue for the public interest. However, in Sierra Club, the Court shifted its focus back to the recognition that, while noneconomic injuries are sufficient to bring a person within the meaning of "the statutory language," the party seeking review must herself be among the injured. The Court does not provide an explanation for this holding, nor will one find the answer in the remaining four paragraphs of Justice Stewart's plurality opinion. Justice Stewart's part of the opinion is devoted to the policy argument that any other construction of the APA would allow parties with a special interest in a matter to litigate, implicitly voicing the concern that the courts would be flooded without any effective barrier to the courthouse. The personal injury requirement, therefore, "serve[s] as at least a rough attempt to put the decision as to whether review will be sought in the hands of those who have a direct stake in the outcome."
Justices Douglas, Brennan, and Blackmun dissented. In particular, Justice Douglas championed Christopher Stone's view that inanimate objects adversely affected by governmental action, such as the trees or Mineral King Valley, should be able to sue in their own right through a representative guardian, such as the Sierra Club. Justice Douglas argued that "[c]ontemporary public concern for protecting nature's ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation." Justice Blackmun, overtly concerned with the possible loss of the Mineral King Valley to development, offered two alternatives in his dissent. He stated that he would either allow the Sierra Club to amend its complaint to satisfy the standing requirement and then reinstate the district court judgment granting a preliminary injunction, or he would allow organizations such as the Sierra Club to maintain the lawsuit, due to its well-recognized interest in environmental issues. Justice Brennan joined in agreeing with Justice Blackmun's second alternative.
After Sierra Club, environmental advocates viewed standing merely as a technical hurdle. This outlook was particularly true in United States v. Students Challenging Regulatory Agency Procedures (SCRAP), where the Court held that law students and other environmental groups challenging a rate increase by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) had standing to pursue their claim. The students alleged that the proposed rate increase for the railroads threatened to discourage the use of recycled materials, which in turn would promote the use of new raw materials that compete with recycled materials or scrap. The students further alleged that the increased need for raw materials would lead to increased mining, timber harvesting, and other resource extracting activities. As a result, the students claimed, the ICC was required to comply with NEPA before it could allow the increase to take effect. The Court, in another opinion by Justice Stewart, held that the students had standing because they used the forests, streams, mountains, and other resources that might be impacted by the nonuse of recycled materials occasioned by the rate increase. In a fairly dramatic passage, Justice Stewart distinguished this case from Sierra Club as follows:
Unlike the specific and geographically limited federal action of which the petitioner complained in Sierra Club, the challenged agency action in this case is applicable to substantially all of the Nation's railroads, and thus allegedly has an adverse environmental impact on all the natural resources of the country. Rather than a limited group of persons who used a picturesque valley in California, all persons who utilize the scenic resources of the country, and indeed all who breathe its air, could claim harm similar to that alleged by the environmental groups here. But we have already made it clear that standing is not to be denied simply because many people suffer the same injury. Indeed some of the cases on which we relied in Sierra Club demonstrated the patent fact persons across the Nation could be adversely affected by major governmental actions. See, e.g., Environmental Defense Fund v. Hardin, 138 U.S.App.D.C. 391, 428 F.2d 1093, 1097 (interests of consumers affected by decision of Secretary of Agriculture refusing to suspend registration of certain pesticides containing DDT); Reade v. Ewing, 2 Cir., 205 F.2d 630, 631-632 (interests of consumers of oleomargarine in fair labeling of product regulated by Federal Security Administration). To deny standing to persons who are in fact injured simply because many others are also injured, would mean that the most injurious and Government actions could be questioned by nobody. We cannot accept that conclusion.The injury in fact requirement, Stewart added, served to distinguish litigants with a "direct stake in the outcome" from those with a "mere interest in the problem." Justice Stewart acknowledged that the plaintiffs' alleged injury required following a fairly attenuated chain of causation, which at the pleading stage of the lawsuit was sufficient to withstand defendant's motion to dismiss, and which the defendants could have challenged in a summary judgment motion.
B.Twenty Years Later: The Early 1990s
The law of standing in environmental cases has since become dominated by two of Justice Antonin Scalia's opinions in the 1990s: Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation6 and Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife. In the first case, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) sued the Department of the Interior over its management of public lands. In particular, NWF complained that the Department was not complying with the requirements of the Federal Land Planning and Management Act (FLPMA) and NEPA when the agency reviewed the status of its lands that had been withdrawn from disposal or mineral leasing or location. After prevailing before the D.C. Circuit twice, the first time on a 12(b)(6) motion and the second on a summary judgment motion, NWF's five years of litigation came to a halt in 1990.
The principal question in National Wildlife Federation was whether NWF had standing to seek review under the APA. Initially, NWF sought to justify its standing on the basis of affidavits by two of its members, Peggy Kay Peterson and Richard Erman. According to Justice Scalia, the only issue was "whether the facts alleged in the affidavits showed that those interests of Peterson and Erman were actually affected." Peterson claimed recreational and aesthetic enjoyment of lands in the vicinity of South Pass-Green Mountain, Wyoming, while Erman claimed use of land "in the vicinity of Grand Canyon National Park, the Arizona Strip (Kanab Plateau), and the Kaibab National Forest." The Court accepted that the Peterson and Erman affidavits sought review of "agency actions" within the meaning of the APA but determined that the "actions" identified were two public land orders covering only a small portion of the acres embraced within the lawsuit. The Court interpreted the affidavits as merely alleging that Peterson and Erman used lands within the vicinity of some unspecified portion of the lands that would be affected by the land orders. The majority held that more was needed to avoid a summary judgment motion. According to the Court, one cannot avoid a Rule 56 motion with "averments which state only that one of respondent's members uses unspecified por tions of an immense tract of territory, on some portions of which mining activity has occurred or probably will occur by virtue of the governmental action." The Court rejected NWF's reliance on SCRAP, distinguishing that case as involving a motion to dismiss (when the plaintiff's averments are assumed to be true and are inter preted most favorably to the plaintiff) rather than a Rule 56 motion. Further, the Court observed that SCRAP's "expansive expression of what would suffice for section 702 review under its particular facts has never since been emulated by this Court."
After concluding that the Peterson and Erman affidavits were insufficient to support standing, the Court addressed whether four additional affidavits supplied by the NWF would suffice. After reviewing these affidavits, Justice Scalia found it difficult to discern the "final agency action" under review. He described the land withdrawal program as an amalgamation of many discrete actions, possibly as many as 1250 separate decisions, which he determined had to be reviewed individually. According to Justice Scalia, NWF was seeking a form of systematic improvement in how the agency was administering its program. However, there was no specific agency action that included all the separate classification terminations and withdrawal revocations. "[R]espondent," he added, "cannot seek wholesale improvement of this program by court decree, rather than in the offices of the Department or the halls of Congress, where programmatic improvements are normally made."
Unfortunately, this opinion obscures NWF's concern with the Department of the Interior's administration of public lands. When Interior Secretary James Watt took office under President Reagan, he brought with him a philosophy that focused on disposing of the public domain by privatizing as much of our natural resources and public lands as possible. The land withdrawal review program, although provided for under FLPMA, was one element of Watt's strategy: the termination of the withdrawals might allow mineral leasing to occur and open land to mineral location under the 1872 Mining Law. Justice Scalia's focus on the need to identify specific classification or withdrawal termination decisions overlooks how lands might become leased for oil and gas activities and also become subject to the operation of the Mining Law. For example, Justice Scalia suggests that the plaintiff might not become harmed until a mining claimant seeks a permit to conduct operations causing a cumulative surface disturbance of at least five acres. By that time, however, it is too late to halt mining activities. Under the Mining Law, once a withdrawal is terminated and lands are open to location, a mining claimant, who satisfies all the requirements under the Mining Law for location and discovery, effectively appropriates the mineral estate for private use and obtains a property right in the mining claim. Where and when the mining claims might be located is unknown until a mining claimant actually stakes her claim and establishes a discovery, at which point any other use of the land might be foreclosed absent the government purchasing the claim. Whether or not a permit might be needed before mining occurs is irrelevant; by the time of the permit application, the public land already may have become appropriated. NWF sought to avoid this situation.
Justice Scalia's suggestion that the appropriate recourse is to go before Congress or the Department of the Interior is somewhat misdirected. Going to the Department offered little promise to NWF since it was challenging the legality of the Department's actions for violating the laws that Congress had already adopted. No further Congressional action was necessary, and only the courts could force the Department to comply with the law. Moreover, NWF's challenge was consistent with how the Department of the Interior and other agencies treated programmatic decisions: environmental groups sought review of the federal coal leasing program in the 1970s, parties challenged grazing policy on a programmatic basis, and the ability to challenge broad-based land use plans, such as one involving approximately 700,000 acres, and other programmatic decisions were not foreclosed.
For all its problems, National Wildlife Federation had more to do with deciding whether and when an action is subject to judicial review than with who can sue. Justice Scalia's next opinion, in Defenders of Wildlife, not only addressed who can sue, but also outlined the minimum constitutional requirements for standing.9 In Defenders of Wildlife, various environmental groups challenged a rule promulgated by the Secretary of the Department of the Interior and the Secretary of the Department of Commerce implementing section 7 of the ESA. Pursuant to section 7(a)(2) of the ESA, all federal agencies, in consultation with the appropriate Secretary (or her delegated agencies, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)), are required to insure that any federal action authorized, funded, or carried out by them "is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of an endangered or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of [critical] habitat." In 1986, the USFWS and NMFS adopted a regulation implementing this proscription but limited the section 7 requirement to federal activities in the United States, an interpretation different from that contained in an earlier regulation. In order to establish standing on behalf of its members, Defenders of Wildlife (Defenders) submitted affidavits from two of its members, Joyce Kelly and Amy Skilbred. In Ms. Kelly's affidavit, she averred that she had traveled to Egypt to observe the endangered nile crocodile and intended to do so again. She claimed that the United States' participation in the rehabilitation of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile River threatened the continued existence of the endangered nile crocodile and thus threatened her ability to observe the species in the future. In the other affidavit, Ms. Skilbred indicated that she had traveled to Sri Lanka and observed the habitat of the endangered Asian elephant and leopard at the current site of the Agency for International Development funded Mahaweli project. She intended to travel there again to observe the species themselves, but the Mahaweli project threatened the continued existence of the species and her chance to observe them. She subsequently admitted she had no specific plans to travel back to Sri Lanka.
Justice Scalia held that, even if these two international projects threatened the continued existence of the endangered species, the Kelly and Skilbred affidavits were insufficient to support Article III standing. He reached this conclusion after outlining the following requirements that a party must satisfy to establish standing:
1. The plaintiff must have suffered an injury in fact, an invasion of a legally-protected interest that isJustice Scalia distinguished between those who are the objects of governmental action or inaction and those who are beneficiaries of the regulatory program, and indicating that when a litigant is not the object of governmental action or inaction it will be "substantially more difficult" to establish standing.
(a) concrete, and
(b) particularized, which means in a
(i) personal, and
(ii) individual way, and which is
(c) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; and
2. There is a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of (i.e., the injury must be fairly traceable to the challenged actions of the defendant); and finally, that
3. It must be likely and not just speculative that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision of the court.
In Defenders of Wildlife, Justice Scalia accepted that the desire to observe an animal species is a Scognizable" interest for purposes of standing, but he added that Sierra Club requires more: the party seeking review must herself be among the injured. Therefore, Defenders had to show through specific facts that the listed species were actually being threatened and that one of Defenders' members would be "directly" affected. According to Justice Scalia, Defenders failed to meet this requirement because neither Ms. Kelly nor Ms. Skilbred had specific plans to return to the affected area and, therefore, were not faced with "imminent injury." Mere professions of intent to return are simply not enough; rather, there must be "concrete plans" or, at the very least, specifics.
Justice Scalia dismissed Defenders' argument that standing could be premised upon an ecosystem nexus, animal nexus, or vocational nexus theory. He described the ecosystem nexus theory as claiming that "any person who uses any part of a 'contiguous ecosystem' adversely affected by a funded activity has standing even if the activity is located a great distance away." He described the animal nexus theory as asserting that "anyone who has an interest in studying or seeing the endangered animals anywhere on the globe has standing." Finally, a vocational nexus would grant standing to anyone with a professional interest in the species. Justice Scalia rejected the ecosystem nexus theory with a reference to his opinion in National Wildlife Federation, reasoning that there was no showing of any perceptible effect on the plaintiffs. The other two theories he dismissed as too illusory, commenting that it is "pure speculation and fantasy, to say that anyone who observes or works with an endangered species, anywhere in the world, is appreciably harmed by a single project affecting some portion of that species with which he has no more specific connection."
After concluding that the affidavits failed to establish an injury in fact, Justice Scalia added that the Defenders could not satisfy the redressibility element of standing. Only Justices Rehnquist, Thomas, and White joined this part of his opinion. The four Justices proffered that an invalidation of the rule, the relief Defenders sought against USFWS and NMFS, would not necessarily prevent the injury being complained of, that is, the harm from the overseas projects caused by parties not before the Court. The injury would not necessarily be prevented because the four Justices treated the rule as nonbinding and the agencies funding the overseas projects were free to proceed.
Justice Scalia ended his opinion with a response to Defenders' argument that the organization could press its complaint under the citizen suit provision of the ESA, which authorizes "any person" to commence a lawsuit to enjoin a violation of the Act (in this case, the failure to engage in consultation under section 7(a)(2)). Defenders argued that the failure to consult was a procedural violation, which all persons are authorized to enforce under the citizen suit provision. Justice Scalia rejected this theory, referring to the argument as a "procedural rights" argument that would confer "upon all persons . . . an abstract, self-contained, noninstrumental 'right' to have the Executive observe the procedures required by law." He reasoned that the asserted violation of a procedural right must be accompanied by a showing of an injury to a concrete interest. Otherwise, the citizen suit provision might confer standing on a party where there is no case or controversy, thus conflicting with Article III, and possibly intruding into the Executive's constitutional function to ensure the laws are faithfully executed.
Most observers agree that Justice Scalia's opinion in Defenders of Wildlife is easily questioned. His insistence on requiring "immin ence" as a part of the injury in fact inquiry appears misplaced. Remember, Defenders was challenging a rulemaking: an action that would have decided environmental consequences some time in the future, and would most assuredly affect those persons interested in protecting, observing, or researching endangered and threatened species. Justice Scalia would layer such a rulemaking challenge with the additional requirement that a litigant establish some degree of imminence in the asserted injury to their interest. Justices Kennedy and Souter would have avoided this issue by merely requiring that the two affiants purchase airline tickets to the Middle East, or at least have some concrete plans to do so. Justice Stevens, in his concurring opinion, would have defined imminence as the likelihood of the occurrence of environmental harm, regardless of when the individuals would likely visit the site.
Upon closer examination, any independent requirement for imminence would be inappropriate. Justice Scalia would have imminence relate to the litigant's asserted interest or injury from the alleged governmental violation. In this case, that could mean that the allegedly invalid regulation impacted the Defenders' or its members' opportunity or ability to observe and study certain species and their habitat, or their actual observation and study of the species and their habitat. So, how would the imminence requirement apply? In the first scenario, when plaintiffs are "injured" depends upon the timing of when the ability or opportunity to observe and study the species and habitat is adversely affected, i.e., when and if the governmental action is likely to occur and cause the effect plaintiffs oppose. Under these circumstances, any imminence requirement would apply to the substantive governmental decision. Yet, that is what Justice Scalia refused to accept. Justice Stevens, on the other hand, embraced such an application, but a showing of environmental harm caused by the agency's substantive decision goes to the merits of the case and seems premature in a rulemaking challenge. Furthermore, Justice Scalia implicitly rejected such a showing. This suggests that Justice Scalia's analysis would have the imminence requirement presume the environmental harm and, instead, relate to the effect on a plaintiff's asserted interest. However, in this respect, Justice Scalia refused to accept the ability or opportunity to observe and study the species and habitat as the asserted interest and, instead, focused on the actual observation and study of the species and habitat. In short, he treated imminence as part of a required showing for geographical nexus. This posture is consistent with his statement that in a claim involving procedural rights, the plaintiff must nonetheless have a concrete interest, either a legal interest (e.g., a cash bounty or a private tort) or a geographical nexus to or use of the affected area. This is not so much imminence as it is simply translating the concrete injury requirement into a geographical nexus or actual use requirement. Reduced to its essentials, Justice Scalia's analysis reflects a decided bias towards only conferring standing upon those persons asserting easily perceptible harm that occurs when one lives near or actually uses an allegedly affected area. This bias is further evidenced by his dismissal of the three nexus theories proposed by the Defenders.
Justice Scalia's rejection of these theories is suspect. His response to the ecosystem nexus theory proceeds from a simple misunderstanding of the basis of the Defenders' argument. As his reliance on National Wildlife Federation demonstrates, Justice Scalia treated the "ecosystem" as a geographically identifiable area, rather than accepting that the species of this world are inextricably linked and the loss of any species, anywhere, affects us all. Ecosystem nexus has nothing to do with the location of a species. In responding to Justice Blackmun, however, Justice Scalia acknowledged that geographic remoteness might be overcome by sufficient facts "showing that the impact upon animals in those distant places will in some fashion be reflected here." Yet such a showing would be illogical. First, Congress already recognized this point when it passed the ESA. Second, Defenders of Wildlife involved a rulemaking challenge, which, if Defenders prevailed, would require an inquiry into the effect of the particular projects on the listed species. To require litigants to establish such a fact for standing would threaten to overtake the merits of the case. Just how Justice Scalia envisions Defenders would establish that the loss of the species (a loss he conceded for purposes of the inquiry) affects people in this country, absent further support from biologists, is uncertain, particularly when this type of inquiry is irrelevant to the litigation and is of a nature ill-suited for a court to address. Similar problems exist with his dismissal of the animal and vocational nexus theories. Must the ornithologist demonstrate the impact on her work from the possible loss of the California condor? Must one whose avocation is to observe and study all reptiles wait until the world is down to its last group of nile crocodiles to demonstrate harm to her interests? Such an approach would most assuredly be ineffective and contrary to the philosophy animating the passage of the ESA.
Furthermore, Justice Scalia's redressibility analysis, joined in by only three other Justices, appears conceptually and factually flawed. To say that the plaintiffs' asserted personal injury must be redressible ignores the principal issue in the case: the rule challenge. An addi tional requirement of redressibility when a plaintiff alleges an injury in fact under any standard involves unnecessary speculation into what will or will not occur if the government observes the law, particularly in this case as illustrated by the dispute among the Justices. Justices Stevens, Blackmun, and O'Connor all agreed that an invalidation of the rule would in all likelihood have prevented the harm to the identified species caused by the projects in Sri Lanka and Egypt. Redressibility relates to whether a court can award the relief sought and whether that relief demonstrates that the parties truly are adverse to one another. Here, Defenders sought invalidation of the rule, clearly within a court's power to award. The relief assuredly would benefit the plaintiffs, because it would protect their interest in ensuring that the government does not contribute to the extinction of species.
Lastly, the majority's suggestion that citizen suit provisions are subject to Article III limitations and could become unconstitutional is simply hyperbole. As David Sive explains, "the suggestion that citizen-suit provisions may be held unconstitutional need not be taken seriously." A court would be more likely to deny standing to particular plaintiffs before taking the next step of holding an act of Congress unconstitutional. Also, the Court's suggestion overlooks the fact that we are not governed solely by judge-made law. Congress has a role in establishing legal interests as well. If Congress intended to create a legal interest, then a party who shares that interest clearly has standing to protect the interest. The legal interest can be the "right" to challenge agency violations of environmental statutes. Cass Sunstein suggests that Congress could establish a legal interest in the substantive outcome or create a cash bounty at the end of a victorious lawsuit.
IV.STRUCTURAL FAULT IN THE BARRIER
Such gimmicks might be premature, however. The confluence of three developments may doom the current law of standing for most environmental disputes. The first development is the Court's recent decision in Bennett v. Spear, and the second development is the likely effect of that decision on the application of the zone of interests test in cases under NEPA. Third, courts are currently unsuccessfully struggling with the articulation of a coherent approach for applying the language and requirements of Defenders of Wildlife to cases under NEPA. Taken together, these developments demonstrate that a wholesale review of the current law of standing is, if not fast approaching, at least warranted.
A.Bennett v. Spear
The dispute in Bennett illustrates the confusion surrounding the application of the zone of interests test in general, and more specifically in the context of litigation under the ESA. The Eighth Circuit and the D.C. Circuit had not applied the test to restrict actions under the ESA. While the Ninth Circuit applied the test to conclude that parties with solely economic interests could not sue to enforce the ESA, the court did so blindly. Even the chief lawyer for the Department of the Interior, Solicitor John D. Leshy, indicated before the Court decided Bennett that the Clinton Administration "believe(s) that under current law plaintiffs with economic interests can obtain review of the Secretary's actions under the Endangered Species Act equivalent to the review available to environmental plaintiffs." He added that "plaintiffs who allege injury to economic interests should be able to obtain judicial review of governmental action concerning protected species if they structure their lawsuits appropriately." Consequently, the Supreme Court's decision in Bennett, reversing the Ninth Circuit decision, seemed almost pre-ordained.
In Bennett, ranchers and irrigators sought to use the ESA to challenge the USFWS's administration of the Act. In 1988, the USFWS listed the Lost River sucker (Deltistes luxatus) and the short nose sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris) as endangered species pursuant to the ESA. These species can be found in various reservoirs in Oregon, including reservoirs that form part of the Bureau of Reclamation's (Bureau) Klamath Project, one of the earliest federal reclamation projects. After the species were listed, the Bureau entered into formal consultation with the USFWS under section 7 of the ESA on the effect of the proposed long-term operation of the project. At the conclusion of the consultation, the USFWS issued a biological opinion that the proposed operation of the project was likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the two species unless the Bureau adopted the reasonable and prudent alternative suggested by the USFWS. The alternative required maintaining a certain amount of water in the reservoirs, thereby reducing the amount of water that the reservoirs could deliver to the various water users. Two irrigation districts and two individuals initiated the lawsuit to challenge the restrictions on the withdrawal of irrigation water from the reservoirs. They claimed that the restrictions violated sections 7 and 4 of the ESA as well as provisions of the APA.
Both the district court and the Ninth Circuit held that the irrigation districts and ranchers lacked standing to prosecute the case. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the plaintiffs' interests were not within the zone of interests protected by the ESA. In its decision, the court indicated that the zone of interests test applied to cases litigated under the ESA, including cases premised upon a procedural injury. The court further rejected the citizen suit provision of the ESA as evidence of Congress' intent to allow any person to sue if they otherwise satisfy the requirements for Article III. standing. The court applied the zone of interests test and concluded that "only plaintiffs who allege an interest in the preservation of endangered species fall within the zone of interests protected by the ESA."
Before the Supreme Court, the United States challenged the petitioners' standing by trying to shift the argument away from the zone of interests test. The United States argued that the petitioners had failed to satisfy the requirements for Article III standing and that even if the petitioners had Article III standing, their claims were not cognizable under either the APA or the ESA. The United States did not argue that the petitioners lacked standing because they failed to satisfy the zone of interests test. Initially, the government sought to persuade the Court that the petitioners failed to satisfy any of the three requirements for Article III standing. The United States asserted that the petitioners could not show an injury in fact, because, while the aggregate amount of water from the Klamath Project might be reduced, the petitioners neither alleged "that they have received, or can be expected to receive, less water than would otherwise have been allocated to them." Furthermore, the United States argued that the injury was not "fairly traceable" to the USFWS's issuance of the biological opinion, because the biological opinion is not a final agency action and thus, is not binding. Rather, the United States alleged that the agency's ultimate decision accepting or deviating from the biological opinion would be the cause of any possible injury: "[I]f petitioners have suffered injury, the proximate cause of their harm is an (as yet unidentified) decision by the Bureau regarding the volume of water allocated to petitioners, not the biological opinion itself." Next, the government argued that petitioners failed to satisfy the redressibility requirement of Article III. With an argument reminiscent of that raised in Defenders of Wildlife, the United States claimed that "in the absence of any challenge to a final decision by the [Bureau of Reclamation], it is purely speculative whether a judicial order running against the Service would enable petitioners to obtain additional water." Interestingly, a majority of the Defenders of Wildlife Court did not endorse a similarly constructed redressibility analysis.
In its second argument, the United States presented various reasons why petitioners could not pursue their claims under the ESA or APA, even if they satisfied Article III standing. The government's primary argument tried to establish that review under the APA was unavailable because there was no final agency action. Beginning with the premise that the APA only authorizes review of final agency actions and then reasserting its view that a biological opinion is not such an action, the United States essentially argued that the case was not ripe for review. The United States argued that the petitioners should have waited and brought their lawsuit after the Bureau of Reclamation acted on the biological opinion. Lastly, the United States argued that the petitioners' claims could not be brought under the ESA citizen suit provision either. The citizen suit provision only applies to the failure of the Secretary to perform a nondiscretionary duty, and the United States contended that none of the three claims brought by petitioners fell within that category.
The Court began its analysis by inquiring whether the plaintiffs lacked standing under both the ESA and the APA, initially focusing on the ESA. After describing the history of the zone of interests test, the Court added that:
[T]he breadth of the zone of interests varies according to the provisions of law at issue, so that what comes within the zone of interests of a statute for purposes of obtaining judicial review of administrative action under the "generous review provisions" of the APA may not do so for other purposes . . . .In the context of a suit brought under the ESA, the Court concluded that the ESA's citizen suit provision, with its broad language allowing "any person" to sue, negates the zone of interests test. The Court indicated that:
[Such a broad reading of] "any person" . . . is greatly augmented by two interrelated considerations: that the overall subject matter of this legislation is the environment (a matter in which it is common to think all persons have an interest) and that the obvious purpose of the particular provision in question is to encourage enforcement by so-called "private attorneys general"—evidenced by its elimination of the usual amount-in-controversy and diversity-of-citizenship requirements, its provision for recovery of the costs of litigation (including even expert witness fees), and its reservation to the Government of a right of first refusal to pursue the action initially and a right to intervene later.The Court held that the any person language of section 11(g) of the ESA encompasses all lawsuits authorized by the terms of section 11(g).
After rejecting the Ninth Circuit's application of the zone of interests test for claims under the citizen suit provision of the ESA, the Court responded to the government's other arguments. First, the Court dismissed the United States' claim that, in order to satisfy the Article III injury in fact requirement, the petitioners must show that they will receive less water. The Court reasoned that at the pleading stage sufficient facts were alleged to show that petitioners might be adversely affected by the reduction of available water. Next, the Court rejected the argument that the petitioners had not satisfied the second or third requirements for Article III standing. The petitioners' injury, even though it might ultimately occur as a result of the actions of the Bureau of Reclamation, is nevertheless "fairly traceable" to the issuance of the biological opinion because the causation requirement "does not exclude injury produced by determinative or coercive effect upon the action of someone else." The Court concluded that the biological opinion would have such a determinative or coercive effect on the Bureau of Reclamation. According to the Court, the redressibility element is satisfied because the Bureau of Reclamation would not impose the water level restrictions if the biological opinion is set aside.
However, because only one of petitioners' claims fell within the type of suit that could be brought under the ESA's citizen suit provision, the Court then addressed whether petitioners could bring those other claims under the APA. The Court concluded that petitioners had standing to assert their APA claim. Relying heavily on Data Processing, the Court chastised the Ninth Circuit for not recognizing that the zone of interests test requires looking to the "particular provision of law upon which the plaintiff relies" and not to the "overall purpose of the Act in question (here, species preservation)." The ESA's requirement that the Service rely on the "best scientific and commercial data available" reflects a broad scope of interests and considerations, which necessarily include the type of economic concerns animating the petitioners' lawsuit:
The obvious purpose of the requirement . . . is to ensure that the ESA not be implemented haphazardly, on the basis of speculation or surmise. While this no doubt serves to advance the ESA's overall goal of species preservation, we think it readily apparent that another objective (if not indeed the primary one) is to avoid needless economic dislocation produced by agency officials zealously but unintelligently pursuing their environmental objectives.Lastly, and in what can only be described as an unfortunate hindrance to the USFWS' administration of the Act, the Court held that the APA suit can proceed. The Court reasoned that the biological opinion has "direct and appreciable legal consequences" and, therefore, is a final agency action under the APA. It would appear from Solicitor Leshy's letter, as well as from the brief of the United States, that this aspect of the Court's decision was unexpected, because most scholars and attorneys familiar with the ESA had always thought otherwise.
B.The Trail Behind Bennett
Bennett v. Spear is only the start of an escalating problem in applying the present requirements for standing. To begin with, the zone of interests test has been lost in a terminal sea of inconsistency. How or whether it applies to challenges under the ESA is only the first manifestation of the problem. Over the horizon lurks the haphazard manner in which the test has been applied in NEPA lawsuits. In addition, the effort to interpret footnote 7 of Defenders of Wildlife and allow standing for procedural violations has generated considerable confusion, especially in suits filed under NEPA. Richard J. Pierce appropriately noted that "[i]f the majority opinion in Defenders has rejected standing based on such procedural injuries [that if the agency had followed the appropriate procedure, the outcome might have been different], the field of administrative law will have lost most of its content." Further, he observed that the majority opinion recognized standing for procedural violations, but only "so long as the procedures in question are designed to protect some threatened concrete interest of [a party] that is the ultimate basis of [the party's] standing." For most environmental disputes involving an agency's alleged procedural violation, this qualifier, coupled with the zone of interests test, seems to mandate a re examination of the requirements for standing.
One initial and unfortunate problem with focusing on procedural injuries as the basis for standing is the difficulty of distinguishing between "informational" and "procedural" standing. "Informational" standing was initially premised on an organization's inability to disseminate information to its members as a result of an agency's failure to follow certain procedures to gather information, principally under NEPA. This approach, however, is intellectually unsatisfying, because neither the APA nor NEPA mentions a third party's opportunity to disseminate information. These statutes instead address a third party's right to receive information and supply information to the federal agency. An organization may truly be "interested" in disseminating information and actions that diminish that organization's ability to disseminate information most assuredly injure the organization. However, that interest or injury is not one that Congress likely contemplated, at least not under the APA, NEPA, or most environmental statutes. So how, then, should courts treat standing to raise a NEPA claim?
1.NEPA and Its Zone of Interests
Some courts begin by suggesting that litigants must first satisfy the zone of interests test for prudential standing. The Ninth Circuit, for example, has indicated that a plaintiff who asserts purely economic interests does not have standing to challenge a violation of NEPA.6 In City of Klamath Falls, Oregon v. Babbitt, a district court observed that the Ninth Circuit's decision in Plenert supported applying the zone of interests test to exclude a party whose interests are solely economic. The district court ultimately avoided the issue by concluding that the plaintiff, a municipality, necessarily represented a variety of interests and also had provided some environmental justification for its litigation. Another district court superimposed the language and requirements of the zone of interests test set forth in Clarke v. Securities Industry Ass'n and concluded that a NEPA plaintiff must:
(a) allege a non-pretextual environmental injury; (b) show that its claim is more than "marginally related" to, and not "inconsistent with," the purposes that underlie NEPA; and (c) be a "reliable private attorney general to litigate the issues of the public interest in the present case" in that [the plaintiff's] interests in the litigation must not be "more likely to frustrate than to further statutory objectives."This court then rejected the plaintiff's injury as too marginally related to the purposes of NEPA, and concluded that the plaintiff's economic interests were in extreme conflict with litigation in the "public interest" to warrant the plaintiff becoming a "reliable private attorney general." The D.C. Circuit, on the other hand, has indicated that economic interests will not "blight" an assertion of qualifying environmental and aesthetic interests. Usually, the issue is not so thoroughly explored. In Catron County v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the County alleged that the USFWS was required to prepare an EIS before it could designate critical habitat for listed species under the ESA. The County's motive was undoubtedly economic, but it alleged with an attenuated fact pattern that the designation of the habitat would "prevent the diversion and impoundment of water by the County, thereby causing flood damage to county-owned property." The Tenth Circuit held that the County's concern with protecting its property fell within the zone of interests protected by NEPA, although the court never articulated the "interests" that it believed were protected.
In Douglas County v. Babbitt, which also involved a challenge to a critical habitat designation, the Ninth Circuit similarly held that a county had standing to allege a procedural injury. The court began by stating that, before excluding the County's interests from the zone of interests to be protected by NEPA, it would have to find that those interests were so inconsistent with the purposes of NEPA that it would be unreasonable to assume that Congress intended to allow the challenge. After the court listed the County's injuries (the interests for purposes of the zone of interests test), the court suggested that the primary issue was whether the County had standing based upon a procedural injury that resulted from the failure of the USFWS to prepare an environmental document pursuant to NEPA. The court concluded that the County did have standing.
In both Douglas County and Catron County, the NEPA claim survived a challenge to the plaintiff's standing, but the difference in how the two courts treated the NEPA claim illustrates the ambiguity surrounding the application of the zone of interests test to such disputes. The Douglas County court applied the test, but did so as part of its discussion of finding a procedural injury. Almost in passing, the court concluded that the County's lands might be affected by the management of the adjacent federal lands, with such an interest falling "within NEPA's zone of concern for the environment." The court in Catron County also applied the zone of interests test, but never addressed a procedural injury. The court merely described the plaintiff's injuries as perceptible and environmental and said that these injuries "fall well within the zone of interests protected by NEPA." Although the difference in how the two courts treated the zone of interests test may be explained by the difference between each plaintiff's facts and arguments, if precedent for the law of standing is to develop with such thin threads it should soon fray.
2.Article III Standing Requirements and Procedural Interests Under NEPA
If the zone of interests test is satisfied, the critical issue becomes how to apply the Article III standing requirements to typical environmental claims under NEPA involving a federal agency's alleged failure to follow prescribed procedures. In Douglas County, the court described the requirements for standing based upon a procedural injury, but its analysis seems to ignore the fundamental concept of a procedural injury under NEPA. The court did not discuss how such an injury falls within the zone of interests protected by NEPA while also satisfying Article III. The court initially expressed doubt whether, under Defenders of Wildlife, the "procedural right" must be conferred by statute or whether it arises because of a threat to a concrete interest. The court decided that the right must be conferred by statute. This did not pose a problem because under NEPA the County had a right to comment on proposed major federal actions that significantly affect the quality of the human environment. However, the Court stated that the procedural injury still had to affect a "concrete" interest within the zone of interests of NEPA. The court concluded that the County's interest in protecting its lands from the consequences of designating adjacent land as critical habitat under the ESA was sufficient to "describe concrete, plausible interests, within NEPA's zone of concern for the environment, which underlie the County's asserted procedural interests."
In Florida Audubon Society v. Treasury Department, the D.C. Circuit offered another approach to cases involving an alleged procedural violation. The case involved a challenge by various conservation groups to a tax credit for the use of an alternative fuel additive, ethyl tertiary butyl ether (EBTE).4 The groups claimed that the Secretary of the Treasury was required to comply with NEPA before promulgating a rule providing the tax credit. The court began its analysis by treating the case as one involving procedural rights of the type addressed in footnotes 7 and 8 in Defenders of Wildlife. According to the court, "a procedural-rights plaintiff must show not only that the defendant's acts omitted some procedural requirement, but also that it is substantially probable that the procedural breach will cause the essential injury to the plaintiff's own interest." The plaintiffs, therefore, had to show "a particularized environmental interest of theirs that will suffer demonstrably increased risk, and whether the tax credit promulgated by the defendant is substantially likely to cause that demonstrable increase in risk to their particularized interest." The court recognized that this might be a difficult standard to meet where the plaintiff cannot show a geographical nexus to or actual use of an area, but believed that this standard was required by such opinions as Defenders of Wildlife and even Sierra Club.
In Florida Audubon Society, the court determined that the plaintiffs could not satisfy this requirement. The court focused on whether the plaintiffs had shown a particularized interest or specific environmental risk to themselves, stating that the "plaintiff must show that he is not simply injured as is everyone else, lest the injury be too general for court action, and suited instead for political redress." Stated another way, the court appears to require some showing of serious environmental harm to an identifiable area as well as a geographical nexus to or actual use of the affected area by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs sought to satisfy this standard by arguing that the tax credit would cause more ETBE production, which would lead to increased ethanol production, thus prompting more production of corn and sugar. The plaintiffs further argued that the increased agricultural production of corn and sugar would result in additional agricultural pollution, which would affect various wildlife areas in Minnesota, Michigan, and Florida that the plaintiffs or its members used and enjoyed. The court refused to accept this argument, reasoning that the plaintiffs had failed to show that any particular farmers near the wildlife areas would actually respond to the tax credit, even though plaintiffs had demonstrated a general risk of environmental harm that would occur from increased agricultural production. Consequently, a majority of the court concluded that the plaintiffs "have not demonstrated such a geographical nexus to any asserted environmental injury," and thus had no standing to sue.
After holding that plaintiffs failed to satisfy the injury in fact requirement, the court issued, in effect, an alternative holding on causation. Apparently uncomfortable with the articulation of this requirement in the past, the court explained that in a NEPA case causation must relate to the alleged environmental injury itself:
As in all cases, standing in an EIS suit requires adequate proof of causation. The conceptual difficulty with this requirement, in this type of case, is that an adequate causal chain must contain at least two links: one connecting the omitted EIS to some substantive government decision that may have been wrongly decided because of the lack of an EIS and one connecting that substantive decision to the plaintiff's particularized injury.The court noted that this causal link between the asserted injury to a particularized interest and the substantive governmental action is required by Defenders of Wildlife. Any past decisions inconsistent with this view were then overruled. Here, the court found insufficient evidence to support the various links in the plaintiff's asserted chain of causation, including even a congressional prophesy.
The dissenters, Judges Rogers, Edwards, Wald, and Tatel, argued that the majority had misapplied the doctrine of standing to such a degree that it threatened to deny standing to anyone challenging actions with diffuse impacts. These judges would have followed the circuit court's decision in Los Angeles v. NHTSA, where the court articulated two requirements for standing in cases involving claims under NEPA. First, the procedural error, such as the failure to prepare an EIS, must create a risk that serious environmental harms will be overlooked, and second, the plaintiff must have a "sufficient geographical nexus to the site of the challenged project that he may be expected to suffer whatever environmental consequences the project may have." The dissenting judges in Florida Audubon Society considered the second requirement as the equivalent of the concrete interest test in Defenders of Wildlife. They believed that the plaintiffs "demonstrated concrete and particularized injury by establishing that they have a 'geographical nexus' to the threatened environmental injury." These judges argued that the plaintiffs had established a heightened risk of environmental injury that would affect their particularized interests and, therefore, it would require too much of plaintiffs to pinpoint precisely how they would be affected.
In Committee to Save the Rio Hondo v. Department of Agriculture, the Tenth Circuit disagreed with aspects of the D.C. Circuit's analysis in Florida Audubon Society.1 In Rio Hondo, the Forest Service approved an amendment to its master plan for the Carson National Forest in New Mexico. The amendment would have authorized changing Taos Ski Valley's special use permit for ski activities during the winter, located within the national forest, to include summertime operations. The Committee to Save the Rio Hondo (the Committee) believed that summertime activities would adversely affect the surrounding land and nearby water. Consequently, the Committee contended that the Forest Service's decision violated NEPA and asserted that the plan amendment and authorization for summertime activities required the preparation of an EIS. The Committee submitted two affidavits from individuals with a demonstrated geographical nexus to the area: both used the nearby water and one used the land in and around the ski area. Both affidavits stated that summertime use would not only affect the quality of the nearby waters by increasing the amount of sewage discharge and non-point source pollution, but would also disturb the recreational and aes thetic value of the surrounding land as a consequence of increased development and mechanization. After concluding that the Committee had satisfied the zone of interests test for prudential standing, the court examined whether the Committee had satisfied constitutional standing under Article III. The court separated its analysis into the three inquiries identified in Defenders of Wildlife: (1) Injury in Fact, which was broken into (a) Increased Risk of Environmental Harm and (b) Concrete Interests; (2) Causation; and (3) Redressibility.
The court's discussion of whether the Committee's members suffered an injury in fact was the most elaborate. The court began by describing the injury resulting from a violation of NEPA in the following summary:
An agency's failure to follow the National Environmental Policy Act's prescribed procedures creates a risk that serious environmental consequences of the agency action will not be brought to the agency decisionmaker's attention. The injury of an increased risk of harm due to an agency's uninformed decision is precisely the type of injury the National Environmental Policy Act was designed to prevent. Thus, under the National Environmental Policy Act, an injury of alleged increased environmental risks due to an agency's uninformed decisionmaking may be the foundation for injury in fact under Article III.Next, the court explained that Defenders of Wildlife requires a showing that the increased risk of environmental harm affects the litigant's concrete and particularized interest: "To fully establish injury in fact, a plaintiff must be able to show that a separate injury to its concrete, particularized interests flows from the agency's procedural failure." The plaintiff can show this type of injury by establishing a "geographical nexus" to or actual use of a site that might suffer environmental harm as a consequence of the agency's action. The court noted that Defenders of Wildlife required that the environmental harm be perceptible and that it must be actual, threatened or imminent. The court concluded that these requirements were met in Rio Hondo. In examining the increased risk of environmental harm, the court summarized the harm that would follow from the Forest Service's decision to allow summertime use of the ski area. The court implicitly suggested that this harm would be a product of an allegedly uninformed decision occasioned by failure to comply with NEPA. The Committee members established their concrete interest because they had a clearly identified geographical nexus to the area and actually used the area.
Lastly, the Rio Hondo court addressed the causation and redressibilty requirements. The court observed that in order to establish causation for a NEPA claim, a litigant must establish that the increased risk of environmental harm to its concrete interests is fairly traceable to the alleged NEPA violation. Here, the court departed from the D.C. Circuit's decision in Florida Audubon Society.4 The Rio Hondo court stated that the D.C. Circuit's requirement that "there is a substantial probability that the substantive agency action created a demonstrable risk, or caused a demonstrable increase in an existing risk, of injury to the particularized interests of the plaintiff . . . appears to confuse the issue of the likelihood of the harm, which is better addressed in the injury in fact prong of the analysis, with its cause." Instead, the increased risk of environmental harm determines whether the plaintiff has suffered an injury in fact. The court acknowledged that the increased risk of harm from the agency's decision is not a result of the decision itself but rather from "uninformed decisionmaking." Therefore, the goal of NEPA would be subverted if plaintiffs were required to establish with a "substantial probability" that the environmental injury will actually occur: "[T]hose examinations are left to an environmental impact statement." The court then noted that plaintiffs can satisfy the redressibility requirement of standing if the injury would be redressed by a favorable decision requiring the Forest Service to comply with NEPA. This is why the court added that it is im material whether (and thus not required to be shown that) the Forest Service's decision would be any different if the plaintiff prevailed.
In a similar case, the First Circuit in Dubois v. United States Department of Agriculture held that a party had standing to challenge a Forest Service decision involving a ski resort. Dubois argued that the Forest Service had not complied with NEPA, the CWA, and an Executive order before the Service decided to authorize the expansion of a skiing facility. The court described Dubois as:
located squarely within the geographical area allegedly directly affected by the proposed project, who visits the area regularly, who drinks the water which will allegedly be tainted by pollutants, and who will allegedly be deprived of his environmental, aesthetic and scientific interests in ways directly tied to the project he challenges.Although the court noted, citing SCRAP, that the injury may be shared by many, it followed by citing Warth v. Seldin with the caveat that the injury "may not be common to everyone." The court also recited the now typical litany that (1) the injury must be personal to the plaintiff (concrete and particularized); (2) it must be actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (3) it must be distinct and palpable; (4) it may be "small" as long as it is "direct"; and (5) it must be fairly traceable to the allegedly unlawful conduct and likely to be redressed. The court concluded that Dubois had standing because he had a geographical nexus to the area and used the water and lands that would be affected by the Forest Service's action. In a fairly conclusory statement, the court added that his injuries were "'likely to be redressed' by the relief he has requested in the complaint: inter alia, an injunction against the project's proceed ing." The First Circuit's analysis, therefore, avoided, or arguably overlooked, focusing on whether Dubois had standing due to a procedural violation as outlined in footnote 7 of Defenders of Wildlife.
V.CEMENTING THE FAULTS: A SIMPLE RECOGNITION OF THE MODERN PARADIGM
The law of standing appears ready to come full circle, back to the fundamental issue that confronted the Court in the early 1970s. In Data Processing, the Court cast aside the notion of requiring a "legal interest," a relic of the old private or common law model, and acknowledged that a party with a noneconomic injury could have standing to pursue a claim. In doing so, the Court indicated that the party must have an injury in fact and fall within the zone of interests of the relevant statute. The Court did not separate its constitutional inquiry from any prudential inquiry, nor did it articulate the nature and breadth of the APA's language that the party must be "adversely affected or aggrieved within the meaning of the relevant statute," as Kenneth Culp Davis would have liked. Two years later, in Sierra Club, the Court confirmed that aesthetic and ecological injuries were injuries in fact for purposes of obtaining standing to sue, but added that to establish an injury in fact the party must show that she is herself personally injured. The Court rejected the argument of the Sierra Club and others that they could, in effect, sue as private attorneys general. In various cases over the next eighteen years, the Court refined its Article III injury in fact requirement by adding what Cass Sunstein notes might be viewed as "natural and entirely unobjectionable corollaries" of the injury in fact requirement if applied correctly. Why Justice Scalia's opinion in National Wildlife Federation and, more particularly, in Defenders of Wildlife, marked a critical juncture in the law has less to do with a formulation of "new" requirements than with their application, or misapplication, to disputes under environmental statutes such as the ESA or NEPA. Since Defenders of Wildlife, the lower courts have struggled with applying the various constitutional and prudential standing doctrines in the frequent cases involving a violation of a procedural requirement under the ESA or NEPA.
This struggle demonstrates that the zone of interests test and the Court's articulated requirements for satisfying Article III standing do not apply in the modern era of environmental law. The zone of interests test is ill-equipped to serve as a useful guide for limiting access to the courts in environmental cases where Congress has sanctioned citizen participation, whether in the form of the APA or NEPA, through specific provisions providing procedural rights, as in the FPA, or by providing a citizen suit provision, as in Bennett. The differences among the opinions can be attributed to the lack of any common understanding that claims under NEPA necessarily engulf a zone of interests test. Bennett luckily signals such a recognition.
If we accept the Bennett Court's admonition that the zone of interests test applies to the particular provision of the law being violated, and not to Congress' overall objectives in the legislation, then courts will no longer have to struggle with deciding when economic interests do not justify granting standing because they are in too much conflict with environmental interests. This is the dilemma presented by the district court's opinion in City of Los Angeles v. Glickman. While it has become commonplace for courts to assert that NEPA was designed to protect the environment, those same courts fail to rely upon the Court's interpretation of NEPA as simply a procedural statute designed to ensure an informed agency decision. Therefore, the goal of NEPA cannot be divorced from the process. This process is not to ensure a correct or particular substantive agency decision, but rather to make sure that the federal agency has before it all the necessary facts to render an informed decision. This means that those who believe that certain environmental impacts will flow from the decision should be treated in a similar fashion as those who might disagree with the agency's decision or want to provide the agency with their side of the story. Whether they are concerned with the environment in the same manner as an environmental organization is irrelevant; each has an equal right to participate in the NEPA process. Often, the juxtaposition of two opposing perspectives can result in a more informed agency decision. Courts, therefore, should be cautious about invoking the hortatory language of NEPA, unless they are willing to afford that language significance and alter the current understanding of NEPA as a procedural statute. Courts should recognize that all claims under NEPA are procedural and that the zone of interests test does not apply in NEPA cases, or its application, for the most part, will be pro forma.
After prudential standing, the next inquiry is how to address Article III standing. The need to show an injury in fact by establishing some direct or personal stake in the outcome of the litigation must be viewed at best as an attempt to ensure that mere interlopers do not abuse the judicial process, or at worst, as an ill-conceived creation to avoid a perceived assault on the courthouse. When the Court expressed this requirement in Sierra Club, it did so without much analysis, simply stating that it was so. What the Court failed to realize, and what has since become abundantly clear, is that any inquiry into the existence of an injury in fact entails a normative judgment. Such an inquiry involves a court's subjective deter mination of whether it will recognize an interest as worthy of protection. No doubt the plaintiffs and their members in Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, and Defenders of Wildlife all feared some "harm" would follow from the alleged governmental violation, so much so that they devoted considerable time and effort in pursuing their cases for many years. However, the harm or injury in each instance apparently was too elusive for the Court to accept; it is not that the injury did not exist.
The problem with defining an injury in fact and determining whether it is of a type that a court will recognize as sufficient to confer standing is evident in how courts treat disputes under NEPA. All such cases are predicated upon a concern that the federal agency may have overlooked certain environmental consequences when the agency decided to act. The plaintiff typically alleges some procedural error, such as the failure to prepare an EIS or to take the requisite "hard look" at the environmental consequences of its action. There is no uniformity in how courts treat such claims. In Babbitt, the court purported to treat the case as involving a procedural right, while under similar circumstances in Catron County, the court did not address any procedural right because the County had established that the agency's decision posed a threat to its legally protected property interest. In both Florida Audubon Society and Rio Hondo, the courts treated the NEPA claim as one involving a procedural injury. The Ninth Circuit has also typically treated NEPA claims the same way, reasoning that the injury is the risk that environmental consequences might be overlooked. In some instances, whether the case becomes one of procedural rights or not appears to depend on whether the alleged injury is characterized as resulting from the agency's substantive decision or from the agency's failure to observe NEPA. In most of these cases, the injury the courts look to is the injury which may result from the agency's substantive decision. At first glance, this seems to make sense because a procedural violation does not per se have identifiable impacts on the physical environment.
This means that a plaintiff alleging a procedural violation must in most, if not all, instances show some likelihood that the agency's substantive decision will have an identifiable impact on the physical environment, as well as establish some geographical nexus to or actual use of the affected area. Upon further reflection, any such inquiry into the risk of adverse environmental effects appears inconsistent with the notion of distinguishing between procedural and other violations of the law for purposes of standing. This becomes evident in Florida Audubon Society, where the court reviewed in considerable detail whether the alleged environmental harm was likely to occur as a result of the ETBE tax credit. The environmental effects were precisely those the litigants thought sufficient to warrant the NEPA claim. Similarly, following the lead of its court of appeals, the district court in California Forestry Ass'n v. Thomas examined whether the Forest Service's adoption of Interim Guidelines to protect the spotted owl's habitat in certain national forests in California actually would have the type of adverse environmental impact asserted by the timber industry. Although the court concluded that the guidelines would not have the asserted effect, the court denied standing because the plaintiff's injuries were not redressible. However, in another case, the D.C. Circuit concluded that a showing of a relatively modest increase in risk is sufficient to establish injury in fact for standing purposes where the alleged environmental harm would be serious. These decisions, Florida Audubon Society in particular, reflect the inherent result of trying to marry a procedural violation with a requirement for a concrete injury, that is, a geographical nexus or actual use test. To the extent that an injury in fact requires showing a personal stake in the outcome of the case, which essentially has come to mean some geographical nexus to or actual use of an area affected by the agency's substantive decision, the tension between decisions like Florida Audubon Society and Rio Hondo and between procedural injury and the substantive decision seems inevitable.
One facet of focusing on an increased risk of environmental harm in a procedural injury case is the timing of that risk, or whether the injury must be immediate or imminent. The Court in Defenders of Wildlife generated such an inquiry when it held that the harm to plaintiff's members was not an actual or imminent injury. The Court did not consider the environmental injury itself but found that the environmental injury was not personalized to the plaintiff's members because the affidavits were insufficient to show that the members actually used or had a geographical nexus to the sites in the Middle East. Nevertheless, some courts now infer from Defenders of Wildlife a requirement for some sort of immediacy to the environmental injury. For example, this requirement has become particularly troubling in challenges to land use plans adopted by the Forest Service. In general, these plans establish the standards and guidelines for making site specific decisions in national forests, not unlike a comprehensive zoning map. Because these plans do not have immediately identifiable discernable effects on the environment, standing to challenge them has become a controversial issue. While most courts follow the better reasoned view that standing is available, the Eighth Circuit denied standing to the Sierra Club's challenge to such a plan because of a failure to establish a threat of imminent environmental harm. The court believed that Defenders of Wildlife justified this conclusion. The Eleventh Circuit, on the other hand, observed that such an analysis confuses ripeness and standing doctrines, finding "the framework of the ripeness doctrine more useful when evaluating injuries that have not yet occurred."
Considering all this, what is the purpose of treating a claim as alleging a procedural violation for purposes of Article III standing? In Defenders of Wildlife, the Court attempted to answer this question by suggesting relaxed standards for the causation and redressibility requirements. Logically, neither of these requirements should apply. If, as we have seen, the cause of a plaintiff's harm is from the agency's substantive decision, then it is not clear how the requirements for causation and redressibility would apply when a plaintiff is alleging a procedural violation, as under NEPA. It is entirely guesswork whether the alleged injury from the substantive agency decision would have been avoided had the agency followed the correct procedures. Thus, in order to avoid stating that the requirements cannot be applied, commonly courts will refer to the increased risk of environmental harm as a result of a procedurally flawed decision, although it is uncertain that the risk of the injury will decrease if the agency is forced to follow the correct procedures.0 In Rio Hondo, for instance, the court concluded that the plaintiffs had demonstrated an increased risk of environmental harm to the Ski Area as a result of the agency's substantive, albeit uninformed, decision. The court then addressed causation and redressibility by concluding that causation is satisfied if the increased risk is traceable to the alleged procedural error. Specifically, the procedural error must relate in some way to the agency's substantive decision. Otherwise, the alleged violation would not risk affecting the plaintiff's interests that are adversely impacted by the agency decision. This would typically not be a problem in the context of NEPA because the entire NEPA process is designed to inform and influence the ultimate decision, thus affecting the plaintiff's substantive interests automatically. This is what the majority in Florida Audubon Society said it was doing, and what the court in Rio Hondo criticized. The problem with this analysis is the same as with Florida Audubon Society in general: A court is required to prematurely examine the merits of the case when the court is simply deciding whether the plaintiff is an appropriate party to bring the case. Some courts avoid this difficulty by stating that the relaxed requirements are satisfied, while others shift the focus of the injury from the agency's substantive decision to the procedural error which can be redressed by a court order. Still other courts respond almost unintelligibly. Perhaps the most accurate response was delivered by Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, who observed that the "chance" that the plaintiff's asserted injury might be averted is sufficient.
This haphazard approach to resolving standing in environmental cases can be remedied only if courts revisit the fundamental basis for the present standing requirements. Courts must recognize that the private law model for litigation cannot function in the modern era of public interest in environmental disputes. The various environmental law programs, whether through the APA alone or through citizen suit provisions, were premised on public participation in environmental and natural resource protection, a national goal for the citizenry. That meant that citizens each have a "right" to participate and to challenge violations of the law, either substan tively or procedurally. Environmental laws are a product of the recognition that the Silent Spring may fall upon all citizens as a result of actions not immediately or perceptibly harmful and that citizens can no longer look at environmental issues through a myopic lens. Americans must look at our environment as an ecosystem that affects us all. To say that all Americans are not personally injured when the opportunity to observe the nearly extinct Amur (or Siberian) tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) is lost or the opportunity to save a species that may contribute toward finding a cure for a disease that affects all persons is risked denies the fundamental tenet of modern environmental law. As one court observed, "[b]oth altruism and self interest lead people to protect endangered species. The decline of one of our fellow travelers on this planet is tragic in itself. It may also be a tocsin which tells us that we are doing something very wrong." Further, not all harms occur in any particular place to satisfy a "geographical nexus" test, and not all harms are immediately perceptible. When the present debate over standing first began, Joseph Sax noted that:
The Mineral King decision suggests that environmental controversies are really nothing more than struggles between developers and birdwatchers. The Court majority seems oblivious to the central message of the current environmental literature—that the issues to engage our serious attention are risks of long-term, large scale, practically irreversible disruptions of ecosystems. By denying to persons who wish to assert those issues the right to come into court, and granting standing only to one who has a stake in his own present use and enjoyment, the Court reveals how little it appreciated the real meaning of the test case it had before it.Perhaps now, almost a quarter of a century later, when the stand ing requirements, at least under NEPA and the ESA, are precarious, the time is right to accept Sax's cue. Courts, therefore, should follow what the Supreme Court said in Bennett v. Spear: The environment is a matter in which we all have an interest, a point essentially made by Justice Stewart in SCRAP. Courts should accept the holding in Sierra Club v. Morton that standing is not defeated simply because an interest may be widely shared. Also, to say that citizens are not all personally injured when federal public lands and natural resources are impacted by federal agency decisions ignores that public lands and resources are not just for citizens of the surrounding communities or users of those lands and resources. Public lands are held for the public at large, for the benefit of us all. In some cases, public lands generate public revenues for programs that we depend upon, and in other cases the revenue is generated so that citizens and future generations might have the opportunity to visit them. Parties who pursue their claims under modern environmental laws are not asserting "generalized grievances," the concern underlying the standing doctrine. Instead, these parties are asserting concrete and particularized claims involving specifically alleged violations of the law that are of the type a court is well suited to decide. Moreover, fiction would be elevated over substance to suggest that there is no "case or controversy" under Article III when the party to the litigation is not seeking an advisory opinion but rather some form of particularized "relief."
To be sure, when litigants seek to vindicate "individual rights" or "constitutional guarantees," the need for some individualized showing of injury is wholly appropriate. It is fair to say that under the Constitution no general constitutional or individual right exists to ensure that all governmental activities are constitutionally permis sible. Otherwise, there would be no present barrier limiting lawsuits alleging a host of constitutional violations. Cass Sunstein explains that the Supreme Court initially developed the doctrine of standing precisely to deal with this problem. However, to say that no implied constitutional right exists to ensure observance with the Constitution fails to suggest that Congress cannot statutorily confer upon private citizens such rights to ensure that the laws it passes are followed. When Justice Scalia wrote that "there is absolutely no basis for making the Article III inquiry turn on the source of the asserted right," he missed the point. The basis for the asserted right is indeed critical. That basis arises in constitutional cases and under a private litigation model when the litigant can demonstrate a sufficient stake in the outcome. In the public litigation model, the basis for the asserted right arises because Congress has adopted modern environmental law programs and conferred upon the citizenry the right to participate in many of those programs. As William Fletcher wrote almost ten years ago, "Congress should have essentially unlimited power to define the class of persons entitled to enforce that [statutory] duty, for congressional power to create the duty should include the power to define those who have standing to enforce it." When and if the courts become overburdened by those claiming to be adversely affected or aggrieved, Congress should bear the duty to curb any abuses that might occur rather than for the courts to craft doctrines with a speculative eye toward what might follow.
The past quarter of a century has illustrated that the law of standing cannot last in its current form. The prudential and constitutional requirements for standing were developed during an era in which the field of administrative law underwent a transformation from the old to a new paradigm. This new paradigm recognized the need for increased citizen involvement and access to the courts. The Court in Sierra Club v. Morton was reluctant to fully endorse the new model of citizen and judicial involvement. That model would have recognized that decisions affecting the environment and natural resources impact all citizens and that the courthouse doors should swing wide to ensure that agencies observe the environmental laws when taking action. Now that the fruit of that reluctance has been witnessed, including an inability to construct a coherent approach to applying the standing requirements to cases under statutes such as NEPA and the ESA, it is only fitting to suggest that the current law of standing is on its last legs.