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Amoco Prod. Co. v. Gambell, Village of

Citation: 17 ELR 20574
No. Nos. 85-1239, -1406, 480 U.S. 531/(U.S., 03/24/1987) Rev'd in part, vacated in part & remanded

The Court rules that § 810 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), protecting natural resources used for subsistence uses, does not apply to the outer continental shelf (OCS), and the court of appeals applied an incorrect standard in determining the availability of injunctive relief. The Court first holds that the Ninth Circuit erroneously granted a preliminary injunction, 16 ELR 20562, to two Alaskan native villages and a native organization seeking to prevent oil and gas exploration on the OCS in the Bering Sea. In concluding that injunctive relief was the only means of insuring the federal government's compliance with § 810, the appellate court erroneously distinguished the case at bar from the Supreme Court's decision in Weinberger v. Romero-Barcelo, 12 ELR 20538. There is no clear indication in § 810 that Congress intended to deny federal courts their traditional equitable discretion in issuing injunctions. The district court found that exploration activities would not significantly restrict subsistence uses, and the court of appeals did not find this factual finding clearly erroneous. The Ninth Circuit's conclusion that irreparable damage is presumed when an agency fails to evaluate thoroughly the environmental impact of a proposed action is contrary to traditional equitable principles and has no basis in ANILCA. Although Congress did declare in ANILCA that preservation of subsistence resources is a public interest, it did not elevate subsistence uses to a position higher than the development of energy resources or other uses of federal lands.

The Court then rules that ANILCA § 810 does not apply to the OCS. Section 810 applies to "public lands," which are defined by ANILCA § 102 to mean federal lands located "in Alaska." The Court holds that the phrase "in Alaska" means land within the boundaries of the state up to three miles from its coastline. By definition under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the OCS begins at the point the state boundary ends. Contrary to the Ninth Circuit's construction of the statute, there is nothing in ANILCA compelling the conclusion that the phrase should be construed to mean the general geographic region. The purpose of ANILCA was to complete the allocation of federal lands in the state, and to this end provided for additions to various federal land management categories. A parenthetical in ANILCA § 1001(a), indicating that the section does not apply to the OCS, does not compel the conclusion that the rest of ANILCA includes the OCS. The Ninth Circuit's reliance on the rule of statutory construction resolving doubts in favor of Indians is also misplaced, since there is no ambiguity here requiring interpretation.

Two Justices concur in the judgment and in part of the majority opinion but deem it unnecessary to determine whether the court of appeals applied the appropriate standard for granting injunctive relief.

Counsel for Petitioners
F. Henry Habicht II, Ass't Attorney General
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2701

Counsel for Respondents
E. Edward Bruce
Covington & Burling
1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20006
(202) 662-6000