Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.



August 28, 1985

DONALD P. HODEL, ET AL., Defendants

The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREENE


 This case of first impression concerns the power of the Secretary of the Interior to engage in and approve land exchanges containing coal reserves where the exchange may, at least in part, benefit common carrier railroads. Ultimately, the decision turns, as do so many others in other contexts, on the meaning of the ubiquitous yet elusive phrase "the public interest." The issues are complicated by the fact that the exchanges are sought by three kinds of entities -- Princeton University and other eleemosynary institutions; the subsidiary of a railroad empire; and the National Park Service. Opposed to the exchanges are coal mining interests.


 Plaintiffs, which are trade associations representing coal mine operators who collectively produce most of the coal mined annually in the United States, brought this action challenging a determination of the Secretary of the Interior issued in 1983 that the so-called "Corral Canyon" land exchange was in the "public interest" and therefore permissible under section 206 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). *fn1" They seek an order (1) enjoining the Secretary and private defendant Rocky Mountain Energy Company to rescind the land exchange, and (2) declaring the Secretary's interpretation and application of section 206 to be contrary to law and invalid. Defendants have moved to dismiss or for summary judgment; plaintiffs have opposed defendants' motions and have cross-moved for summary judgment. After carefully considering the claims asserted by plaintiffs, and the papers and oral arguments submitted by the parties, the Court concludes that plaintiffs' claims lack merit, and it will accordingly grant defendants' motions and order the case dismissed.


 The material facts are not in dispute. The land exchange challenged in this litigation was part of a three-way land swap arranged by Princeton University. During the years 1980 to 1982, Princeton received a series of charitable donations of privately owned lands located within the confines of Grand Teton National Park in the State of Wyoming. Seeking to convert this gift of real property into cash, Princeton offered to sell the land to the National Park Service, which had acquired similar tracts in the past to protect Grand Teton Park against commercial development. The Park Service responded that lack of funds for new parkland purchases precluded it from accepting Princeton's otherwise very attractive offer. When subsequent negotiations between Princeton and other conservation-oriented prospective purchasers proved equally unsuccessful, the University devised an imaginative solution to the problem: a three-way land exchange in which Princeton would sell the bequest lands to a private energy development company, which would then exchange them for federal lands located outside the park that were suitable for commercial mining and energy development. Such an exchange would simultaneously provide Princeton with the cash it needed, prevent the commercial exploitation of the donated land, create additional parkland at no financial cost to the federal government, and provide tangible economic benefits to the private energy company.

 In conjunction with three other eleemosynary institutions which were experiencing similar difficulties in disposing of land bequests, *fn2" Princeton reached an agreement with Rocky Mountain Energy Company ("Rocky Mountain") under which that company would purchase the Grand Teton properties owned by all four institutions and exchange them for federal coal lands in Wyoming's Corral Canyon that were contiguous to other tracts owned by Rocky Mountain. In December 1981, Rocky Mountain wrote to the Wyoming State Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of the Department of the Interior proposing the fee exchange of the private, Grand Teton lands for the Corral Canyon coal lands under section 206 of the FLPMA. The National Park Service and the BLM jointly prepared an Environmental Assessment which concluded that the proposed exchange was consistent with both the Park Service's land management objectives for Grand Teton National Park and the BLM's land use and resource management objectives for the Corral Canyon area. The BLM District Manager thereafter prepared a Land Report and Initial Recommendation in which he concluded that the public interest would be served by completing the exchange. In accordance with these decisions, the BLM continued to process the land exchange application.

 Notice of the proposed exchange was published in the Federal Register *fn3" and public comments were invited in accordance with departmental regulations. *fn4" Numerous organizations and individuals submitted comments, the overwhelming majority of which strongly endorsed the proposed exchange. The supporters of the exchange included such diverse groups as Rocky Mountain and the institutional landowners (with their financial interests), environmental organizations (such as the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and the Wyoming Chapter of the Sierra Club), the Governor of Wyoming, the entire Wyoming congressional delegation, and various Wyoming State agencies.

 The only comments opposing the proposed exchange were those filed by plaintiffs and by an affiliate of two other energy companies. The thrust of the opposing comments was that the proposed land exchange violated various federal statutes prohibiting affiliates of common carrier railroads, such as Rocky Mountain, *fn5" from leasing federal coal reserves for commercial development *fn6" and prohibiting railroads from transporting coal mined by their affiliates. *fn7" Plaintiffs contended that the proposed exchange, which would transfer to Rocky Mountain ownership federal coal lands that would otherwise remain available for leasing, was inconsistent with the spirit, if not the letter, of the statutory common-carrier coal leasing and transportation prohibitions, and that it therefore did not satisfy the "public interest" requirement of section 206 of the FLPMA. Finally, plaintiffs argued that the proposed exchange did not comply with the requirements of FLPMA section 206(b) that the land exchanged either be of equal value or that any discrepancy in valuation be made up with a cash payment. *fn8"

 On January 5, 1983, the BLM District Manager rejected plaintiffs' protests. Plaintiffs timely appealed that decision. On June 2, 1983, the BLM State Director, acting with the concurrence of the Assistant Secretary of the Interior, again rejected plaintiffs' protests in a memorandum decision that responded point-by-point to plaintiffs' objections. This action followed.


 The parties appear to agree that, to the extent that judicial review of the Secretary's decision is available, the appropriate standard is that provided in the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A), which authorizes a reviewing court to "set aside agency action . . . found to be (a) arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law." Id.

 The defendants have mounted several threshold objections to judicial review in this case, however. The federal defendants contend that plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the Interior Secretary's decision. The private defendants (Rocky Mountain, et al.) contend that Interior Department decisions concerning federal land management are committed to agency discretion and are therefore unreviewable. The Court finds neither of these objections persuasive, and it concludes that judicial review under the § 706(2)(A) standard is appropriate.

 To establish their standing to sue, plaintiffs must establish (1) that they have suffered injury in fact, and (2) that they are within the zone of interests to be protected by the relevant legislation. Association of Data Processing Service Orgs., Inc. v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150, 151-52, 25 L. Ed. 2d 184, 90 S. Ct. 827 (1970). Here, plaintiffs have alleged that they have suffered significant, albeit limited, economic injury due to the Secretary's withdrawal of federal coal lands from the competitive leasing system, and that they will suffer even more severe economic injury if the Secretary is permitted to implement his alleged new policy of permitting railroads to gain access to federal coal lands. These allegations of present and future economic injury are sufficiently concrete to satisfy the injury in fact requirement.

 As for plaintiffs' membership in the protected class, the language and legislative history of the Mineral Lands Leasing Act, and particularly of section 2(c), provide abundant evidence that Congress intended the prohibition on railroad access to federal coal lease to protect independent coal companies such as plaintiff organizations' members from unfair competition. *fn9" Accordingly, the Court concludes that, taking the plaintiffs' allegations to be true, *fn10" they have established their standing to sue.

 The contention of the private defendants that the Interior Department's "public interest" determination is committed by law to agency discretion, and therefore unreviewable, is equally unpersuasive. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that executive agency determinations are presumptively subject to judicial review, except where a statute is drawn in such broad terms that there is no law to apply or where there is evidence of a clear legislative intent to preclude review by the courts. *fn11" Here the statutory language of FLPMA section 206 provides specific criteria to be applied in making public interest determinations, *fn12" and the statute also explicitly reflects the congressional intent that "judicial review of public land adjudication decisions be provided by law." *fn13" The Court plainly has the authority to review the Secretary's decision to determine whether it complied with these explicit statutory standards.


 On the merits, plaintiffs have challenged the Secretary's decision on essentially three grounds. *fn14" First, they contend that the FLPMA is merely an enabling statute that only governs land exchanges authorized under other statutes and that the Secretary lacked the authority under the FLPMA to approve the Corral Canyon exchange. Second, they contend, as they did before the agency, that provisions in the Mineral Lands Leasing Act (MLA), 30 U.S.C. § 202, and the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. § 10746, which respectively prohibit railroad affiliates from obtaining federal coal leases and prohibit common carriers from transporting commodities that they mine or produce, are implicitly incorporated in the FLPMA and that the Secretary's decision therefore violated the statute. Finally, they contend that even if the Secretary possessed authority under the FLPMA to approve the land exchange, his public interest evaluation constituted an abuse of discretion because it failed to consider adequately the potential anticompetitive effect of the exchange on western coal production.


 The contention that an exchange of this sort is not authorized under the FLPMA is so lacking in support that it can only be characterized as frivolous. The statute provides in plain language that "A tract of public land or interests therein may be disposed of by exchange by the Secretary under this Act. . ." FLPMA section 206, 43 U.S.C. § 1716(a) (emphasis added), and it refers in the next paragraph to " the exchange authority granted by subsection (a) of this section," 43 U.S.C. § 1716(b) (emphasis added). Plaintiffs' interpretation of the FLPMA would ignore this explicit statutory language and render the emphasized words superfluous.

 Such a reading would violate fundamental principles of statutory construction requiring fidelity to the plain meaning of statutory language *fn15" and favoring constructions that give meaning to every word of a statutory enactment. *fn16" Moreover, plaintiffs have identified no legislative history that contradicts this clear statutory language. *fn17" There is, therefore, simply no question that the FLPMA grants to the Secretary the authority to undertake land exchanges of the sort challenged here. *fn18"


 Plaintiffs' contention that the MLA and Interstate Commerce Act provisions must be read into the FLPMA is likewise unsupported by statutory language. Nothing in the language of the FLPMA, which involves fee land exchanges only, incorporates, by reference or otherwise, the restrictions placed by these other statutes on the leasing, mining, or transportation of coal by common carriers. Conversely, nothing in the language of the MLA or the Interstate Commerce Act directs that the restrictions contained in these statutes shall also apply to fee land and coal exchanges under the FLPMA. Indeed, the MLA explicitly exempts FLPMA section 206 exchanges from the restrictions on disposition contained in the MLA. Section 37 of the MLA provides in relevant part that "The deposits of coal . . . herein referred to, in lands valuable for such minerals, . . . shall be subject to disposition only in the form and manner provided in this chapter, except as provided in sections 1716 and 1719 of Title 43. . ." 30 U.S.C. § 193 (emphasis added).

 Plaintiffs attempt to explain away the absence of a textual linkage between the three statutes on the basis that the laws are linked by logic, and they further contend that failure to read the MLA and Interstate Commerce Act restrictions into the FLPMA effectively would create a vast loophole which would permit the wholesale evasion of the MLA's restriction on coal leasing by railroad affiliates through the use of the FLPMA fee exchange provision. Noting that implied repealers of legislation are disfavored (see Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153, 57 L. Ed. 2d 117, 98 S. Ct. 2279 (1978)), and that the FLPMA itself specifically states that "Nothing in this Act shall be deemed to repeal any existing law by implication," FLPMA § 701(f), 43 U.S.C. § 1701(f), plaintiffs assert that Congress could not have intended such an anomalous result, and that harmonious construction of the three statutes requires the reading of the MLA restrictions into the FLPMA.

 The critical flaw in plaintiffs' argument is that it ignores the significant limitations placed on the Secretary's discretion by the express terms of the FLPMA. Section 206 of that statute requires the Secretary to conduct a detailed public interest analysis prior to approving each proposed fee exchange. *fn19" It does not give him carte blanche to approve wholesale transfers of federal or other coal lands to railroad affiliates. The Court is confident that the restrictions imposed by the public interest requirement are more than adequate to prevent the use of the FLPMA as a means of evading the coal-leasing prohibitions contained in the MLA.

  While, to be sure, some tension exists between these various congressional enactments, the Court is unprepared to conclude that harmonious construction of these statutes requires the substantial alteration by implication of the FLPMA's explicit statutory language. Accordingly, the Court holds that the MLA's ban on coal-leasing by common-carrier railroad affiliates is not incorporated in the FLPMA and does not extend to FLPMA fee exchanges.


 Plaintiffs' final objection to the Corral Canyon land exchange is that, on the merits, the exchange is not in the public interest as required by the FLPMA. When viewed through a practical prism, nothing could be more in the public interest: Princeton and its sister institutions receive capital for their educational or health-providing ventures; parkland in the Grand Teton will remain unspoiled; and a private energy company receives land outside the national parks for commercial mining. However, plaintiffs assert that the Court should regard as paramount the potential anticompetitive effects of the proposed exchange, and that the Secretary failed properly to perform such an evaluation or to weigh its results in making his final public interest determination. Accordingly, they urge the Court to hold that the Secretary abused his discretion in approving the Corral Canyon exchange under the FLPMA.

 The defendants have noted, correctly, that the FLPMA public interest provision does not include potential anticompetitive effects among the panoply of factors that the Secretary of the Interior must take into account in reading his public interest determination. The statute provides only:


That when considering public interest the Secretary concerned shall give full consideration to better Federal land management and the needs of State and local people, including needs for lands for the economy, community expansion, recreation areas, food, fiber, minerals, and fish and wildlife and the Secretary concerned finds that the values and the objectives which Federal lands or interests to be conveyed may serve if retained in Federal ownership are not more than the value of the non-Federal lands or interests and the public objectives they could serve if acquired.

 43 U.S.C. § 1716(a). There is no mention at all of a requirement that the Secretary of Interior take into account in his public interest determination the antitrust implications of a proposed exchange. It can therefore be argued, as the Secretary did during the administrative proceedings below, that under the familiar principle of expressio unius est exclusio alterius Congress' failure to include potential anticompetitive effects among the enumerated categories of factors to be considered by the Secretary suggests that the FLPMA should be construed not to require such an analysis. *fn20"

 The Court need not reach that issue, however, for whatever may be the proper resolution of this important question of statutory construction, it is appropriately left to another day. It is clear that here the Secretary did, in fact, proceed to consider the potential anticompetitive effect of the Corral Canyon exchange, and he properly found that it was not significant enough to preclude a determination that the exchange was in the public interest. Officials of the Bureau of Land Management's Wyoming office noted that the federal coal reserves disposed of through the Corral Canyon exchange "represent [] less than 3% of the federal coal disposed of through lease in Wyoming alone in [Fiscal Year] 1982." BLM Decision of June 2, 1983 (Rocky Mountain Ex. B-13) at 4. *fn21" They also noted that FLPMA exchanges were, and are, *fn22" considered case-by-case, on an ad hoc basis, and that the Corral Canyon exchange did not "represent a change in departmental policy for exchange rather than lease sale as the preferred method for disposing of federal coal nor does it set a precedent for such disposition." Id. As the BLM officials' response makes clear, the Corral Canyon exchange could have had only de minimus effects on competition within the coal industry, and any other potential effects were at best speculative. *fn23" Accordingly, the Court finds that, assuming the Secretary was required under the FLPMA to consider the potential anticompetitive effects of the Corral Canyon exchange, his evaluation was adequate and his decision was not an abuse of discretion under the statute.


 To sum up, the FLPMA grants the Secretary of the Interior broad authority to approve proposed federal land exchanges that are consistent with statutory requirements and which are in the public interest as defined by FLPMA section 206. The Secretary properly evaluated the proposed Corral Canyon exchange under these standards, and his determination that the exchange satisfied these statutory prerequisites is abundantly supported by substantial record evidence. Nothing in any of the statutes cited by plaintiffs precludes the Secretary from approving the Corral Canyon exchange. In short, it is clear that the Secretary's decision was neither arbitrary and capricious nor contrary to law, and that it therefore must be affirmed.


 For the reasons stated in an Opinion issued this date, it is this 27th day of August, 1985

 ORDERED that plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment be and it hereby is denied; and it is further

 ORDERED that defendants' motion for summary judgment be and it hereby is granted; and it is further

 ORDERED that this case be and it is hereby dismissed.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.