Aransas Project petitions Supreme Court to save Whooping Cranes

Monday, April 20, 2015 10:18 am 

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has joined the fight to protect the habitat of the endangered Whooping Cranes. Ryan submitted a brief on Friday, April 17, asking the United States Supreme Court to uphold a federal district court’s finding that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) adversely impacted the habitat of the Whooping Cranes, leading to the deaths of 23 of the protected species.

County Attorney Ryan filed the brief in support of the position of the Aransas Project, a nonprofit group of environmentalists, business owners, anglers and conservationists, who are asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ reversal of the district court judge.

“If allowed to stand, the Fifth Circuit’s decision will have an adverse effect on future litigants in federal district court,” Ryan said. “The petitioners in this case are fighting to stem the erosion of a habitat that brings richness to our lives and waterways. If the commission tasked with protecting our environment is also allowed to destroy it, then the duty to protect it must fall to others, to all of us.”

In his brief, County Attorney Ryan argues that the Fifth Circuit embarked on a fact-finding mission in conflict with federal rules of procedure. According to the County Attorney, the Fifth Circuit undermined the decision-making authority of district court judges. Ryan said that could adversely affect future lawsuits initiated or defended by the Harris County Attorney’s Office.

In 2013, Senior U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack found that the TCEQ mismanaged freshwater inflows from the Guadalupe River into the San Antonio Bay estuary, violated the Endangered Species

Act, and caused the deaths of the Whooping Cranes. That decision was later overturned by a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans, which called the district court’s action an “abuse of discretion” and ruled the deaths were not foreseeable as a result of the state’s water policy.

In a detailed dissent, Fifth Circuit Judge Edward Prado suggested the judges who voted to reverse the district court’s ruling applied their own facts to the case rather than using those of the trial judge. He wrote that “the Supreme Court has reversed this court before for improperly reweighing the factual findings of district courts.”

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