Yesterday federal district Judge Emmet Sullivan denied a request from the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association and the State of Wyoming to reinstate a Bush administration plan allowing increased snowmobile access in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The judge's order requires the Park Service to begin a phase-out of snowmobiling in the two parks this season. This year, 493 snowmobiles can come into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks each day, and a total ban would take effect next year.
On December 16, a day before the start of the winter snowmobiling season in Yellowstone, Sullivan ruled that the Bush administration's new snowmobile plan was illegal, and ordered the Park Service to resume a transition away from noisy and polluting snowmobiles to cleaner and quieter multi-passenger snowcoaches.
The state of Wyoming, the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association and the Blue Ribbon Coalition quickly filed motions asking Sullivan to stay his decision.
In an opinion issued on December 22, the judge responded that the snowmobile industry's and the State of Wyoming's complaints about the timing of the court's decision were "disingenuous at best." As the judge pointed out, "all defendants, including Intervenors, originally argued extensively that the Court should not issue a decision before the Final Rule was published ...; they now argue that a decision issued a mere four days after the publication of the Final Rule causes irreparable injury. Defendants cannot have it both ways."
The court placed responsibility for the timing of its decision squarely on the shoulders of the administration. "For reasons entirely beyond the court's control, and entirely in the control of Federal Defendant...the Final Rule was not published until December 11, 2003, just six days before the Parks' winter season was to begin. For months prior to the challenged opinion, the Court repeatedly questioned the delay in implementing the Final Rule."
The judge also stressed "Federal Defendants repeatedly advised the Court that they were ready and able to implement the 2001 Winter Plan that defendants acknowledged would go into effect if the 2003 Rule was not implemented."
More broadly, the judge took the Park Service to task for causing implementation problems this winter. "If those making snowmobiling reservations and planning winter trips to the Parks were not warned by [the NPS and the Intervenors] of the pending litigation, as well as the distinct possibility that the 2001 Final Rule requiring a snowmobile phase-out would remain in effect, "their interests were not well served..."
Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice, 406-586-9699
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