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Texaco, Inc. v. Andrus

Citation: 11 ELR 20179
No. Nos. 79-2448, -2458, (D.D.C., 01/19/1981)

The court rules that owners of alluvial valley floor (AVF) land on which strip mining is prohibited must be offered federal coal-bering land in exchange, and it remands a number of the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM's) regulations for determining the unsuitability of lands for surface coal mining under § 522 of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). The court reads the legislative history and the language of § 510 of SMCRA to mandate tht if a mine operator owns land with coal deposits located on an AVF, the Secretary of the Interior must exchange federally owned coal-bearing land for the private land. The court rejects defendant's argument that fee exchanges are discretionary because they must be made under § 206 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which vests discretion for fee exchanges with the Secretary. The discretion granted by § 206 allows the Secretary to determine exchange sites, not to determine whether to conduct the exchange at all. Turning to BLM's regulations concerning unsuitability designations under § 522, the court rules that materials incorporated by reference in the preamble to the regulations need not directly accompany the release of the regulations for public comment. However, the court remands regulations which (1) protect endangered species but make no exemptions for substantial preexisting legal and financial commitments under § 522(a)(6), (2) provide extensions to the § 522(e) per se unsuitability categories, (3) shift the burden of proof to mine operators concerning natural hazards that "substantially endanger life and property" under § 522(a)(3)(D), and (4) require approval by a municipality where a lease may affect a municipal watershed under § 522(a)(3)(C). Finally, the court enjoins the Secretary from applying unsuitability criteria, based on laws other than SMCRA, to existing coal leases.

Counsel for Plaintiff Texaco, Inc.
Gerry Levenberg
Van Ness, Feldman & Sutcliffe
Suite 500, 1220 19th St. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 331-9400

Counsel for Plaintiff Nat'l Coal Ass'n
Timothy M. Biddle
Crowell & Moring
1100 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 452-5800

Counsel for Defendants
Carol L. Green, Alfred T. Ghiorzi
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2738