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Seattle PI: "Seattle judge dismisses suit over lumber payments"

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June 24, 2009 -- Conservation groups lack standing to challenge the federal government's decision to give $350 million from a U.S.-Canada softwood lumber settlement to forestry foundations, a judge has ruled.

By Tim Klass, Associated Press Writer

SEATTLE -- Conservation groups lack standing to challenge the federal government's decision to give $350 million from a U.S.-Canada softwood lumber settlement to forestry foundations, a judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones ruled Tuesday that the Forest Stewardship Council-United States, Conservation Northwest and the Center for Biological Diversity failed to show they were damaged by the decisions of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Commerce Department, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

He dismissed a lawsuit the groups brought in September and did not rule on their claims that the payments illegally bypassed the U.S. Treasury and Congress.

The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities received $200 million, and the American Forest Foundation received $150 million.

Jones wrote that the conservation groups failed to show they should have been able to compete for the funds, that they were harmed or that the payments caused environmental degradation.

Corey Brinkema of Minneapolis, president of the stewardship council, and the principal lawyer for the three groups, Peter R. Goldman of the Washington Forest Law Center in Seattle, said Wednesday they had not decided whether to appeal.

Justice Department lawyers did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

As part of a $1 billion settlement to resolve U.S. claims of lumber dumping, Canada agreed in September 2006 to provide $450 million for "meritorious initiatives," including disaster relief, assistance to lumber-dependent communities and sustainable forestry.

The U.S. trade representative's office gave $350 million of that money to the two foundations rather than to the environmental groups.

The lawsuit did not challenge the way the rest of the settlement was distributed to other organizations, including Habitat for Humanity International and the Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports.

Goldman said the conservationists would ask the Obama administration "to look at the law" and possibly seek the return of the money from the two timber foundations on grounds that it was awarded illegally.

Another option would be for the administration to submit the question to Congress, Goldman said.