ALBANY — The Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act don't shield the State of Oregon from a $1.4 billion timber lawsuit, a judge has ruled.
Federal environmental statutes don't protect the state from potential damages in a lawsuit filed by 14 counties and roughly 130 tax districts accusing Oregon's government of insufficiently logging state forests, a Linn County judge ruled Thursday.
Attorneys for Oregon claimed federal environmental statutes effectively prohibited state forest managers from maximizing timber harvests on that land.
Linn County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Murphy ruled those defenses are not valid, since the plaintiffs allege Oregon's forest protections surpassed the requirements of federal law, the Capital Press reported.
The state government also argued it properly formulated the 1998 "greatest permanent value" regulations, which the plaintiffs claim impermissibly reduced logging levels.
Murphy ruled the defense is invalid because the regulations could have resulted in a breach of Oregon's contract with local governments, even though the rules were lawfully enacted "through legitimate process."
The judge disagreed with Oregon's argument local government can't sue over the contract while continuing to benefit from timber revenues, since a lawsuit "for partial damages is allowed."
He struck several other defenses offered by Oregon's attorneys, such as the lawsuit was time-barred or was outside the court's jurisdiction.
The Capital Press was unable to reach Oregon's attorneys and the Oregon Department of Forestry to comment on the ruling Thursday.
The judge's decision removes significant obstacles in bringing the lawsuit to trial, said John DiLorenzo, attorney for the plaintiffs.
"I have no doubt this case is going to be tried to a jury," he said. "They tried to blow us out of the sky but we're still flying."