A notable trial win by Stoel Rives partners Jeff Leppo and Ryan Steen in Alaska federal court garnered considerable attention in the Alaska and national business press. In a ruling issued January 11, 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) proposed critical habitat designation for the polar bear failed to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. "The current designation went too far and was too extensive," the Judge wrote in his opinion.
Leppo and Steen, who represented the Alaska Oil and Gas Association (AOGA) and the American Petroleum Institute (API) in the case, argued that large portions of the USFWS's critical habitat designation – an area larger than California – were not supported by evidence showing the presence of physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the polar bear. Judge Beistline agreed.
"In its current form, the critical habitat designation presents a disconnect between the twin goals of protecting a cherished resource and allowing for growth and much-needed economic development," Beistline wrote. The Judge also agreed that USFWS failed to follow "applicable ESA procedure by not providing the State [of Alaska] with adequate justification for the State's comments not incorporated into the Final Rule [designating critical habitat]." Read our press release for more information on the ruling.
The decision was covered extensively by the Alaska Business Monthly, reporting on press statements issued by Alaska Governor Sean Parnell and Attorney General Michael Geraghty, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.
Nationally, the story was covered by the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), the Associated Press, legal news magazine Law360 (subscription required) and other news outlets.