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Hoyl v. Babbitt

Citation: 28 ELR 20286
No. 96-1388, 129 F.3d 1377/(10th Cir., 11/25/1997)

The court upholds a district court's order affirming the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM's) denial of plaintiff-appellant's request for a coal lease suspension pursuant to § 39 of the Mineral Leasing Act. The court first holds that the district court's decision affirming the BLM's denial of a § 39 suspension was supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record. The court next holds that the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) did not act arbitrarily and capriciously by not granting a § 39 suspension when an environmental impact statement (EIS) was being prepared. The DOI has determined that § 39 suspensions are generally only appropriate in extraordinary situations where a lessee is denied access to his lease. Because an EIS must be prepared before any coal mine subject to a federal lease may be developed, the preparation of an EIS is part of the ordinary course of developing a coal mine. Thus, the court holds that although undue delay may require an agency to exercise its discretion to grant a suspension, the mere preparation of an EIS does not constitute a de facto lease suspension under § 39. The court then holds that the DOI did not depart from well-established agency precedent when it refused to grant plaintiff-appellant's request for a § 39 suspension. There is no DOI policy granting suspensions whenever an EIS is prepared. The court further holds that the DOI's consideration of a present market for coal as a factor in determining whether or not to grant plaintiff-appellant's request for a suspension was reasonable. The court also holds that the DOI's consideration of whether plaintiff-appellant was authorized to mine his federal leases was reasonable, because it was one of many factors the DOI considered in determining whether to grant a suspension. Last, the court holds that it need not decide whether plaintiff-appellant has a protected property interest in a § 39 suspension, because even assuming plaintiff-appellant had a right to due process regarding the suspension, the process afforded by the Interior Board of Land Appeals and later by the district court satisfies any such right.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Constance E. Brooks
C.E. Brooks & Associates
Denver Center
1776 Lincoln St., Ste. 1010, Denver CO 80203
(303) 863-0836

Counsel for Defendant
Ellen J. Durkee
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Porfilio and Anderson, JJ.