Nevada AG Laxalt frozen out of sage grouse lawsuit hearing

CARSON CITY — Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who ruffled the feathers of Gov. Brian Sandoval when he joined a lawsuit challenging sage grouse protections, won't be allowed to argue Tuesday when a federal judge considers an injunction to block new public lands regulations, the judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du, in an order issued Friday, said only the original plaintiffs in the case — Elko and Eureka counties, Quantum Minerals LLC and Western Exploration LLC — will be permitted to present issues and arguments.

The AG's office, seven other counties, another mining firm and a ranch joined the lawsuit after the original suit was filed on Sept. 23.

The first lawsuit was filed the day after Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would not list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act because of continuing efforts by states and federal agencies to protect the bird's habitat.

Critics argue new regulations for public land use imposed as an alternative to a listing are just as onerous and would hurt rural economies by curtailing mining, ranching and energy development.

The attorney general's office and other counties added their names to the suit when an amended complaint against the federal government was filed Oct. 22.

Du, in a two-page order limiting the scope of Tuesday's hearing, said the "added" plaintiffs didn't join in the motion for a preliminary injunction until last Thursday, less than a week away from the scheduled hearing.

"Unsurprisingly, the motion and related briefs do not address the claims of the additional plaintiffs, nor how the additional plaintiffs can satisfy their burden in seeking preliminary injunctive relief …," Du wrote.

She also noted she agreed to hear the case on an expedited basis and that the added plaintiffs, including the AG's office, had "ample time" to join in the request for an injunction "yet waited until the verge of the scheduled hearing" to file their motion with the court.

Laxalt and Sandoval, both Republicans, exchanged testy statements in late October when Laxalt announced he was joining the lawsuit.

Laxalt said the lawsuit was necessary to protect Nevada's interests. Sandoval, who hasn't ruled out litigation over the land regulations, argued that Laxalt's lawsuit was premature and would undermine efforts to reach a resolution through on-going discussions with federal agencies.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb