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National Wildlife Fed'n v. Burford

Citation: 19 ELR 20656
No. No. 87-4375, 871 F.2d 849/(9th Cir., 03/30/1989) Mont. district court decision aff'd

The court holds that an environmental group has standing in its suit alleging that the Secretary of the Interior violated the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (MLA) by accepting coal lease bids below fair-market value in the Powder River Basin area of Montana and Wyoming, and the Secretary acted reasonably in accepting the lease bids. The court first holds that plaintiff has standing to challenge the Secretary's decision. Plaintiff's allegations of significant particularized harm to its members' aesthetic, recreational, and economic interests satisfy the injury-in-fact and traceability requirements of standing. The lease sales at below fair-market value may have caused plaintiff's members to suffer economic harm, since the sales would reduce the money available to the states under the provision of the MLA requiring the federal government to return 50 percent of lease sale proceeds to the state in which the sales occurred. The members' aesthetic and recreational interests may have suffered, since below fair-market value pricing could have promoted added development. The court holds that these interests fall within the zone of interests Congress intended to protect under the MLA. The possibility that the states would spend some of the funds under the MLA's revenue-sharing provision in the members' locales is not so remote as to undermine plaintiff's claims of economic injury. Plaintiff is not required to show that its injuries are within the zone of interests protected by the MLA's fair market value provision; plaintiff may rely on the statute as a whole to establish standing. The MLA does not express a fairly discernible congressional intent to preclude private suits. The statute does not specify the class of plaintiffs that may bring suit and provides for public participation in lease sales and land use planning. The court holds that plaintiff is not required to prove with certainty that it has suffered a significant injury under the MLA's revenue-sharing provision for each lease tract. Plaintiff's request that the leases be voided would directly redress the asserted injuries, since the leases may be resold at a higher price and thus raise the amount of revenue that would be returned to the states. The court holds that plaintiff has satisfied the requirements for organizational standing. Its members would suffer injury-in-fact, mitigating the impact of coal production is germane to plaintiff's purpose of protecting the environmental, social, and economic qualities of affected areas, and plaintiff's members need not participate directly in the litigation.

On the merits, the court holds that the Secretary acted reasonably in accepting the lease bids. The Secretary's shift to a bid system that allows lower initial bids than the prior system was not arbitrary and capricious, and 9 of the 11 tracts up for lease received high bids that met or exceeded the pre-sale estimates of fair-market value. The process used by the Department of the Interior to calculate the pre-sale minimum acceptable bids was reasonable.

[A previous decision in this litigation appears at 12 ELR 20762. Pleadings are summarized at ELR PEND. LIT. 65748.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs-Appellants
James A. Patten
Patten Law Firm
27 N. 27th St., Billings MT 59103
(406) 252-6782

Glenn P. Sugameli
National Wildlife Federation
1412 16th St. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 797-6800

Eldon V. C. Greenberg
Galloway & Greenberg
1835 K St. NW, Ste. 801, Washington DC 20006
(202) 833-9084

Counsel for Defendants-Appellees
Byron H. Dunbar, U.S. Attorney
167 Federal Bldg., Butte MT 59701
(406) 723-6611

Robert L. Klarquist
Land and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2731

Before Norris and Thompson, JJ.