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Mountain States Legal Found. v. Andrus

Citation: 11 ELR 20044
No. No. C78-165B, 499 F. Supp. 383/15 ERC 1006/(D. Wyo., 10/14/1980)

The court rules that the Secretary of the Interior's failure to act on outstanding oil and gas lease applications in wilderness study areas in national forests constitutes a withdrawal of these lands from the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (MLA) under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). As a result of the Forest Service's second roadless area review and evaluation (RARE II) of national forests under the Wilderness Act of 1964, 10.8 million acres of national forests, including many tracts subject to pending oil and gas lease applications, were designated as further study areas. On the recommendation of the Forest Service, the Secretary of the Interior has not acted on the applications in order to protect the wilderness characteristics of the land. The court first rules that the defendants' failure to act has effectively removed the land from entry for oil and gas leasing in a manner which constitutes a "withdrawal" within the meaning of § 103(j) of FLPMA. Second, the withdrawal violates the intent of both the MLA and the Mines and Mineral Policy Act of 1970 to promote mineral development. Agreeing that the Secretaty has discretion under the MLA to refuse to issue any leases, the court nevertheless finds that the Secretary may not base such decisions solely on the desire for wilderness protection. Third, since the Wilderness Act permits mineral development in wilderness areas until 1983, it is inconsistent with the Act to allow lands merely under study to be closed to leasing. The court concludes that Congress intended FLPMA to limit the Secretary's ability to withdraw lands through generalized use of his discretionary authority. The court also rules that under § 102(a)(5) of FLPMA the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture must enact regulations setting forth the policies of the Departments relating to the bases for acting on oil and gas lease applications. Finally, the court rejects defendants' contention that because the MLA does not require the Secretary to issue oil and gas leases plaintiff's members have no legal right to leases and thus lack standing, ruling that administrative delay amounts to a final action subject to judicial review under § 706 of the Administrative Procedure Act. The court orders the Secretary to report the withdrawal to Congress within 20 days or begin acting on the applications.

Counsel for Plaintiff
James G. Watt, Kea Bardeen
Mountain States Legal Foundation, 1845 Sherman St., Denver CO 80203
(303) 861-0244

David B. Kennedy
Kennedy, Connor & Healy
P.O. Box 607, Sheridan WY 82801
(307) 672-2491

Counsel for Defendants
Charles E. Graves, U.S. Attorney
P.O. Box 668, Cheyenne WY 82001
(301) 778-2220, ext. 2126

Gerald S. Fisk
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-4059