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Trustees for Alaska v. Watt

Citation: 12 ELR 20107
No. No. A81-264 Civ., 524 F. Supp. 1303/16 ERC 1679/(D. Alaska, 11/02/1981)

The court rules that the Secretary of the Interior's transfer of the authority to regulate oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) violates the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act (Refuge Act). Section 1002 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act directs the Secretary to establish guidelines for oil and gas exploration in the refuge, authorizes him to approve exploration plans, and requires a report to Congress on exploration results. The Secretary transferred primary responsibility for preparation of the exploration guidelines and the report from FWS to USGS, and gave USGS responsibility for approving exploration plans with FWS concurrence. Initially, the court observes that an "arbitrary and capricious" standard of review is generally applicable, but that on matters of statutory construction the court is the final authority. FWS, which is charged with the responsibility to "administer" the refuge system by the Refuge Act, must control and direct the refuge by regulating human access in order to conserve wildlife. Since the duties transferred to USGS include the control and direction of human access to the refuge, the court rules that they involve administration of the refuge and must be performed by FWS. In addition, the legislative history indicates that there will be no joint administration of any refuge units.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Robert E. Mintz
Trustees for Alaska
835 D St., Suite 202, Anchorage AK 99501
(907) 276-4244

Counsel for Defendants
Cynthia Pickering, Ass't U.S. Attorney
701 C St., Box 9, Anchorage AK 99513
(907) 271-5071