U.S. District Court judges in two separate lawsuits have granted unopposed motions to pause further proceedings to allow for agency actions.
One of the lawsuits is against the National Marine Fisheries Service over Pacific coast fishing and the other is against Douglas County PUD over lubricants that leak into the Columbia River.
In Center for Biological Diversity, et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Service, et al. Judge Marsha Pechman stayed the case until May 1, 2020, or after a new biological opinion for management of Pacific coast fishing is issued.
In April, the Center for Biological Diversity and Wild Fish Conservancy sued NMFS, saying that the more than 250,000 Chinook caught by commercial and recreational fishing and 65,000 caught as bycatch have a significant impact on endangered southern resident killer whales. The lawsuit claims ocean fisheries reduce Chinook abundance by between 18 and 25 percent. It asks the court to require NMFS to reinitiate consultation and issue a new biological opinion.
In its motion, NMFS stated it reinitiated consultation April 12 on the Salmon Fishery Management Plan and its effects on killer whales, and is committed to issuing a new biological opinion before May 1, 2020, prior to finalization of next year's salmon fishing regulations.
NMFS' motion says its 2009 biological opinion of the management plan for Pacific fisheries concluded that the West Coast salmon fisheries were not likely to jeopardize killer whales, but new information spurred the agency to reinitiate consultation.
As part of the process, the agency proposed forming an adhoc workgroup within the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which has been meeting to reassess the effects of ocean salmon fisheries on Chinook salmon, the orca's favored prey.
The workgroup plans to provide recommendations to the council at its November meeting, allowing NMFS to move forward with its analysis. The agency plans to provide at least two updates for the public on biological opinion status in January and March 2020.
Neither the plaintiffs nor defendant-intervenors--Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and Coastal Trollers Association--opposed the motion.
The judge ordered the parties to report back to the court within two weeks of the expiration of the stay with a status of the litigation.
A U.S. District Court judge agreed on July 30 to stay further proceedings in a U.S. District Court lawsuit against Douglas County PUD while a pollution discharge permit request is being processed.
In Columbia Riverkeeper v. Douglas County Public Utility District et al., the PUD is accused of violating the Clean Water Act by failing to get a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit to operate Wells Dam. The PUD denies any violation, saying a water quality permit from the Washington State Department of Ecology is sufficient.
In order to limit expenses and avoid an ongoing dispute, the PUD applied for a NPDES permit in May, and Ecology expects to act on it within nine months of being accepted, the judge's order states.
Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson agreed to stay proceedings until the agency takes final action, or until Dec. 31, 2021, whichever occurs first.
Along with the stay, the parties agreed to a stipulated order after Riverkeeper indicated it would oppose a stay and request a preliminary injunction, the order says.
As part of the stipulation, Douglas PUD agrees to "diligently" respond to any requests from Ecology related to the NPDES permit. It also agrees to notify Riverkeeper of any spill that must be reported to the National Response Center and Ecology under its 2018 spill prevention plan.
According to the proposed order, the PUD has studied where in Wells Dam it could replace conventional oil lubricants with Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants, or EALS. It states that although it's more expensive, the PUD is already using EALs in some of its operations. Under the stipulation, the PUD has agreed to continue investigating the feasibility of replacing more of its conventional oil lubricants with EALs, complete an assessment and switch to EALs when feasible.
The PUD also agreed to prepare annual reports accounting for all oils, greases and lubricants delivered to Wells Dam in order to maintain a balance of oil inputs and outputs to help identify unnoticed leaks.
The order strikes the April 27, 2020 trial date for this case.