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California Coastal Comm'n v. Granite Rock Co.

Citation: 17 ELR 20563
No. No. 85-1200, 480 U.S. 572/25 ERC 1713/(U.S., 03/24/1987) Rev'd

The Court holds that Forest Service regulations, federal public land statutes, and the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) do not preempt the California Coastal Commission's requirement that a mining company obtain a state permit to work its unpatented mining claims located in a national forest. The Court first holds that the case is not moot even though plaintiff's five-year plan of operations, approved by the Forest Service, had expired during the course of the litigation. Plaintiff has conceded that it conducted operations subsequent to the date the Commission notified it of the permit requirement, and the Commission may require reclamation for pollution caused by this work. It is also likely that plaintiff will submit new plans of operation in the future, thus causing dispute over whether the Coastal Commission, rather than the federal government, could enforce conditions incorporated into the state permit. The Court then holds that the case does not fall within its appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1254(2), since no state statute was invalidated by the courts below, but grants certiorari pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2103.

The Court rules that Forest Service regulations concerning unpatented mining claims in national forests, issued pursuant to the Mining Act of 1872, do not preempt state environmental regulation of those claims. The regulations do not indicate any intention to preempt state law and, in fact, assume that mining operations will comply with state law. Moreover, the environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact prepared by the Forest Service in connection with the mining company's plan of operations in the instant case expressly stated that the company was responsible for obtaining any state-mandated permits. The Court holds that the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) do not preempt the Commission's authority to impose environmental controls on unpatented mining claims in national forests. Even if FLPMA and NFMA, taken together, preempt state land use regulation in the national forests, an issue the Court declines to decide, the Commission has consistently maintained that it will use the permit requirements to impose environmental regulation only and not to prohibit mining on national forest land. Making a distinction between land use planning, which prescribes allowable uses for land, and environmental regulation, which imposes limits on those allowable uses, the Court concludes that there are no indications in the federal statutes that Congress intended any state environmental regulation of unpatented mining claims in national forests to be per se preempted as an impermissible exercise of state land use planning.

The Court rules that the federal CZMA does not automatically preempt state regulation of federal lands located in the state's coastal zone. Although § 304(a) of the CZMA excludes from the coastal zone lands the use of which is subject solely to federal discretion, both the statute and its legislative history indicate that Congress did not intend for the CZMA to be an independent cause of preemption except in cases of actual conflict. The Court holds that there is no actual conflict in this case, since the Commission has not issued a permit and plaintiff has not demonstrated that any possible conditions imposed by a state permit wouldconflict with federal law.

Four Justices dissent from the Court's preemption rulings. Two Justices assert that the majority improperly assumed that since the Forest Service's regulations required that federal permittees comply with specific state environmental standards that therefore Congress intended to allow state regulation of all state environmental standards, disagree with the majority's characterization of land use controls and environmental regulation as distinct activities, and conclude that state permit requirements on federal lands are sufficiently intrusive into the federal management scheme created by FLPMA, NFMA, and other federal public land laws to be preempted. Two other Justices also disagree with the majority's distinction between land use control and environmental regulation and would hold that the Coastal Commission's permit requirement is a land use regulation preempted by the federal public land laws.

[The lower court decisions appear at 14 ELR 20911 and 15 ELR 20919.]

Counsel for Appellants
Linus Masouredis, Deputy Attorney General
Dept. of Justice, 1515 K St., Suite 511, Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 324-5437

Counsel for Appellee
Barbara R. Banke
50 Francisco St., San Francisco CA 94133
(415) 392-2424

Counsel for Amicus Curiae
Jeffrey P. Minear
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-1442