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NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL v. BURFORD

November 1, 1988

NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL, INC., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ROBERT F. BURFORD, et al., Defendants


William B. Bryant, Senior United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRYANT

WILLIAM B. BRYANT, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 This action is before the court on cross-motions for summary judgment. The plaintiffs, environmental groups and organizations of residents of western states, challenge rules promulgated by defendant Department of the Interior ("Interior") in July 1982 and February 1986. The rules amend a number of regulations promulgated in 1979 to govern the national program for the management, including leasing and mining, of federally-owned coal. The plaintiffs claim that various provisions of these rules violate the substantive requirements of one or more of the federal statutes governing coal management and land use planning. *fn1" The federal defendants, joined by the State of Wyoming and intervenors from the coal industry, maintain that both the 1982 and 1986 actions are consonant with the governing statutes. They counter that plaintiffs lack standing to raise these claims and that one of plaintiffs' challenges is time-barred. Upon consideration of the submissions of the parties and for the reasons stated below, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted on the grounds that plaintiffs have failed to show they have standing to sue.

 I. BACKGROUND

 This suit is a challenge to coal mining regulations promulgated by the Department of Interior in 1982 and 1986, which plaintiff maintains are inconsistent with the substantive statutes governing mining and land use enacted by Congress in the mid-to late 1970's. The general land use statute at issue is the Federal Land Policy and Management Act ("FLPMA"), 43 U.S.C. §§ 1701-1784, which require that all federal lands be inventoried and their uses coordinated through "land use plans." Id. at § 1712(a). In developing and revising these land use plans, the Secretary of Interior must consider the environmental, economic, social and cultural values that would be served or disserved by various uses, according to criteria set out at 43 U.S.C. § 1712(c). Opportunity for public comment and participation in formulation of plans is required. Id. at § 1712(f). Two statutes address mining in particular: The Federal Coal Leasing Amendments Act ("FCLAA"), 30 U.S.C. §§ 201-209, which amended the earlier Mineral Lands Leasing Act of 1920 ("MLA"); and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act ("SMCRA"), 30 U.S.C. §§ 1201-1328. FCLAA requires, in relevant part, that all coal lands be leased by competitive bidding at fair market value, 30 U.S.C. § 201(a)(1); that the lessee submit "an operation and reclamation plan" within three years after obtaining a lease, 30 U.S.C. § 207(c); and that leases are subject to a "diligent development" condition that requires leased land to be producing coal in commercial quantities within ten years. 30 U.S.C. § 207(b). SMCRA sets environmental protection standards for coal mining on all land, public and private, 30 U.S.C. §§ 1251-1279. It also imposes two important obligations upon the federal government: it requires that the federal government determine which of its lands are unsuitable for surface coal mining, 30 U.S.C. § 1272(b); and, where the government owns the mineral rights located beneath privately owned surface lands, that mineral rights not be leased without the surface owner's consent. 30 U.S.C. § 1304.

 In light of these three landmark statutes and the decision in Natural Resources Defense Council v. Hughes, 437 F. Supp. 981 (D.D.C. 1977), modified, 454 F. Supp. 148 (D.D.C. 1978), which enjoined application of an earlier regulatory program as having relied on inadequate environmental assessments, Interior adopted a new coal management program in 1979. 44 Fed. Reg. 42584. Plaintiffs characterize this 1979 program as one designed "to achieve a balance among all interests affected by the leasing of the Nation's coal resources -- coal companies, land owners, states, the environmental community and the consuming public" which "sought to key leasing decisions to national energy needs; ensure that such decisions were integrated with comprehensive land use planning efforts; review all lands, including those already leased, for their suitability for leasing during land use planning; spur leaseholders to production; provide for public input at each critical stage of the decisionmaking process; and ensure maximum protection of surface owners." Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Support of Their Motion for Summary Judgment at 9-10.

 In 1981, with the advent of a new administration, Interior began a review of federal coal leasing policy which culminated in a number of alterations to the federal coal leasing scheme. Among these changes were the shift from a coal leasing program based on the market demand for coal production to one in which industry demand for coal reserves was the basic criterion for setting coal leasing levels. The 1982 regulations also provide for a "call for coal resource information" by which Interior expressly solicits information on lands with coal resource development potential from industry, state and local governments and the general public. 43 C.F.R. § 3420.1-2. Plaintiffs' suit challenges the following specific aspects of the 1982 regulations as inconsistent with substantive statutory provisions governing the land use planning and coal leasing process:

 (1) The 1982 regulations delete the specific standards set out in the 1979 regulations for reviewing the adequacy of pre-FLPMA and FLCAA land use plans known as "Management Framework Plans" ("MFPs"). Compare 43 C.F.R. § 3420.1-5(c) and (d) (1979) with 43 C.F.R. § 3420.1-4 (1982). The 1979 regulations provided that the MFPs could be used as basis for leasing decisions until December 31, 1984 if they met the standards set out in the regulations, but after that date, leasing decisions were to be based upon comprehensive "resource management plans" ("RMPs") prepared by the Bureau of Land Management. 43 C.F.R. § 3420.1-5(e).

 (2) The 1982 regulations fail to integrate into the land use planning stage of the leasing process an analysis of unsuitability (for all or certain types of surface coal mining operations) based upon the reclaimability of the lands in question following mining. This reclaimability criteria is applied during the later mining permit application process. 30 C.F.R. § 786.19(b).

 (3) The 1979 regulations provided numerous opportunities for public input into the establishment of regional coal needs and production targets. See 43 C.F.R. § 3420.3-2. These provisions were deleted in the 1982 regulations, which rely instead upon public input to the regional coal teams during the stage when regional leasing levels are being established. 47 Fed. Reg. 33119. Plaintiffs allege that this alteration renders the regulations inconsistent with the FLPMA provision which requires that the general public have adequate opportunity to comment on the plans and programs related to the use of the public lands. 43 U.S.C. § 1712(f).

 (4) Section 6 of FCLAA, 30 U.S.C. § 207(a), provides that "any lease which is not producing in commercial quantities at the end of ten years shall be terminated." The 1982 regulations state that this ten year "diligent development period" shall begin on "the effective date of the first lease readjustment after August 4, 1976, for federal leases issued prior to August 4, 1976." 30 C.F.R. § 211.2(a)(14)(i)(B); 47 Fed. Reg. 33181. Plaintiffs maintain that this regulation is contrary to FCLAA's directive in that it allows for periods of greater than 10 years during which a lease may not be producing in commercial quantities.

 (5) Section 6 of FCLAA, 30 U.S.C. § 207(c), also requires that a successful applicant for a tract submit an operation and reclamation plan within three years after the lease is issued. A 1982 regulation challenged by plaintiffs extends this three year period by "the period of time in which the District Mining Supervisor determines that operations under the federal coal lease or [Logical Mining Unit] are interrupted by strikes, the elements or casualties not attributable to the operator/lessee." 30 C.F.R. § 211.22(a)(1); 47 Fed. Reg. 33187.

 In 1985, the Department of Interior completed a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the Federal Coal Leasing Program. In February 1986, the Department issued a number of decisions regarding the nature and scope of the coal leasing program in a Secretarial Issue Document ("SID"). A number of the changes embodied in the SID rendered claims in ...


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