Sierra Club v. Glickman
156 F.3d 606 (5th Cir. 1998)

  • The Edwards aquifer supported a number of endangered species, but it also supported a lot of agriculture and provided drinking water to a lot of people.
    • More and more water was getting pumped out of the aquifer, which could put the endangered species at risk.
  • Sierra Club sued the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for violating 7(a)(1) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
    • Sierra Club argued that 7(a)(1) required USDA to adopt programs "for the conservation of endangered species."
    • USDA argued that they weren't the ones pumping the water, it was private farmers. USDA argued that they didn't have the authority to forbid farmers from taking water, all they could do was offer them incentives not to. Since (in USDA's opinion) that probably wouldn't work, ordering USDA to take that action would have no effect, so there was a lack of redressability.
      • Basically, USDA was saying that they weren't the cause of the problem and had no power to fix it, so there was no reason to sue them.
    • USDA also argued that their duties under 7(a)(1) were not judicially reviewable, because it was solely a question of fact and not a question of law.
      • See Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe (401 U.S. 402 (1971)).
  • The Trial Court found for Sierra Club. USDA appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that USDA could have an influence on the irrigation decisions of farmers, so the injury Sierra Club claimed was redressable.
    • The Court found that the matter was judicially reviewable because 7(a)(1) contained a clear statutory directive. The Court found that just because USDA has broad discretion as to how to apply 7(a)(1), they could not simply ignore it entirely.
  • Does this decision mean that every Federal Agency has to reconsider every one of their programs and decide if they doing everything they can to preserve endangered species?
    • Courts are mixed. Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Indians v. U.S. Department of the Navy (898 F.2d 1410 (1990)) rejected the reasoning behind this decision said that the Navy didn't have to consider conservation and go with the 'least burdensome alternative' possible.