A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco appears to be ready to rule against a controversial oyster farm in Point Reyes, according to reporters and environmentalists who attended today's hearing. Scott Graham, a longtime, respected journalist for the The Recorder legal newspaper, tweeted after the hearing: "Sounds like win for the govt and enviros." And Pamela MacLean of Trial Insider wrote, " The days may be numbered for the popular Drakes Bay Oyster farm, if the questions Tuesday from three judges on 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are any indication." The Obama administration and environmentalists want the courts to uphold then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's decision last fall to not renew Drakes Bay Oyster Company's lease in Point Reyes in order to make way for the first marine wilderness on the West Coast.
Courtroom observers said the three-judge panel appeared to be skeptical of claims made by the oyster farm's legal team that Salazar made legal errors when he decided last November to not renew the oyster farm's lease. If the appellate panel rules against the oyster farm, the company's legal team is expected to appeal — either to the full Ninth Circuit or directly to the US Supreme Court.
Conservatives around the country have taken up the oyster farm's cause because the controversy could have ramifications for the rights of corporations operating on public land. The oyster farm is represented by Cause of Action, a shadowy nonprofit with ties to the ultraconservative Koch Brothers. Republicans in Congress also have written legislation to renew the oyster farm's lease and tied it to efforts to greenlight the Keystone XL pipeline and offshore oil drilling.