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Wildearth Guardians, et al v. Ken Salazar

May 10, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge


Plaintiffs, WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife, bring this Administrative Procedure Act ("APA") action against the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (the "Secretary") and the Director of the Bureau of Land Management (the "BLM") (together, the "Federal Defendants"), challenging the BLM's denial of WildEarth Guardians' petition seeking the recertification of the Powder River Basin as a "coal production region" under 43 C.F.R. § 3400.5. Intervening as defendants are the State of Wyoming, the National Mining Association, and the Wyoming Mining Association (collectively, "Defendant-Intervenors").

Currently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, the relevant authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to discharge their burden of establishing that they meet the irreducible constitutional minimum of standing. Accordingly, the action shall be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE for lack of jurisdiction. The Court does not reach the merits of the BLM's denial of WildEarth Guardians' petition.


A. Statutory and Regulatory Background

The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (the "Act") provides that "[d]eposits of coal . . . and lands containing such deposits owned by the United States . . . shall be subject to disposition in the form and manner provided in this chapter." 30 U.S.C. § 181. Under the Act, the Secretary is permitted to lease public lands for coal mining operations after conducting a competitive bidding process:

The Secretary of the Interior is authorized to divide any lands subject to this chapter which have been classified for coal leasing into leasing tracts of such size as he finds appropriate and in the public interest and which will permit the mining of all coal which can be economically extracted in such tract and thereafter he shall, in his discretion, upon the request of any qualified applicant or on his own motion, from time to time, offer such lands for leasing and shall award leases thereon by competitive bidding[.]

30 U.S.C. § 201(a)(1). By its terms, the Act mandates that any coal leasing authorized by the Secretary be done by competitive bidding and prescribes conditions for such leasing-for example, by requiring accepted bids to meet or exceed fair market value. However, the Act has little to say about the competitive bidding process itself. Instead, Congress elected to confer upon the Secretary "sweeping authority" to promulgate regulations designed to carry out the statutory command. Indep. Petroleum Ass'n of Am. v. DeWitt , 279 F.3d 1036, 1039 (D.C. Cir. 2002), cert. denied sub nom. Indep. Petroleum Ass'n of Am. v. Watson , 537 U.S. 1105 (2003); see also 30 U.S.C. § 189 ("The Secretary of the Interior is authorized to prescribe necessary and proper rules and regulations to do any and all things necessary to carry out and accomplish the purposes of this chapter.").

Pursuant to his broad authority, the Secretary enacted regulations delineating how the BLM would "conduct competitive leasing of rights to extract [f]ederal coal." 43 C.F.R. § 3420.0-1. The regulations provide for two different coal leasing processes: (1) the regional leasing process; and (2) the leasing-by-application process. See 43 C.F.R. pt. 3420. Both processes are forms of competitive leasing, as both contemplate an open, public, and competitive sealed-bid process and both preclude the BLM from issuing a coal lease if the highest bid does not meet or exceed fair market value. See 43 C.F.R. §§ 3422.1, 3422.2, 3425.4.

The regional leasing process is primarily agency-driven, with the BLM identifying public lands for prospective use and offering coal leases for sale. See R ULES & R EGULATIONS: P UBLIC P ARTICIPATION IN C OAL L EASING, 64 Fed. Reg. 52,239, 52,240 (Sept. 28, 1999). The regional leasing process applies only in areas designated as "coal production regions," which are creatures of regulation and the boundaries of which the BLM is empowered to alter:

The Bureau of Land Management shall establish by publication in the Federal Register coal production regions. A coal production region may be changed or its boundaries altered by publication of a notice of change in the Federal Register. Coal production regions shall be used for establishing regional leasing levels[.]

43 C.F.R. § 3400.5. This provision was designed to "[a]uthorize the Bureau of Land Management to establish coal production regions for the purpose of setting coal leasing levels and for other coal management purposes." P ROPOSED R ULES: C OAL M ANAGEMENT; F EDERALLY O WNED C OAL; A MENDMENTS TO C OAL M ANAGEMENT P ROGRAM R EGULATIONS, 46 Fed. Reg. 61,390, 61,391-61,392 (Dec. 16, 1981). The applicable regulations do not require the BLM to establish specific coal production regions nor provide guidance as to when and where the establishment of such regions would be appropriate. However, once the BLM has established a coal production region, the regulations specify how the BLM should go about setting "regional leasing levels." 43 C.F.R. § 3420.2. When setting regional leasing levels, the BLM must-in consultation with other federal agencies, state and local governments, tribes, and regional coal teams-take into account such factors as national energy needs, industry interest in coal development, and the potential economic, social, and environmental effects of coal leasing on the region. Id. § 3420.2(c).

The leasing-by-application process, in contrast, is primarily applicant-driven, with the applicant assuming responsibility for identifying public lands for potential use and proposing specific tracts for leasing. See id. §§ 3425.0-2-3425.5. The leasing-by-application process applies in "areas outside coal production regions" and in areas within coal production regions "where an emergency need for unleased coal deposits is demonstrated." Id. §§ 3425.0-2, 3425.1-5. Unlike the regional leasing process, the leasing-by-application process is not structured around regional leasing levels, but the BLM must nevertheless perform an environmental analysis. See id. § 3425.4.

B. Case-Specific Background *fn1

In 1979, the BLM established several coal production regions, including the Powder River Coal Production Region, an administrative area corresponding to the Powder River Basin-a geographic area of approximately 24,000 square miles spanning northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana. See I DENTIFICATION OF C OAL P RODUCTION R EGIONS H AVING M AJOR F EDERAL C OAL I NTERESTS, 44 Fed. Reg. 65,196, 65,196 (Nov. 9, 1979). As a result, beginning in 1979, any leasing in the Powder River Basin was ...

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