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Natural Resources Defense Council v. Berklund

Citation: 9 ELR 20761
No. No. 78-1757, 609 F.2d 553/13 ERC 1948/(D.C. Cir., 11/09/1979) Aff'd

The court affirms a lower court's ruling that the Secretary of the Interior has no discretion to reject on environmental grounds applications for preference right coal mining leases by prospecting permittees who have fulfilled the requirements of § 201(b) of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920. Section 102 of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which directs agencies to implement NEPA's policies "to the fullest extent possible," gives way where these policies conflict with an existing statutory scheme. The plain meaning of § 201(b) of the Mineral Leasing Act as well as the consistent administrative practice under it for 60 years show that the Secretary cannot deny a lease to a qualified preference right applicant for environmental reasons. The court finds that in view of this limitation the Department has in fact complied with NEPA's directive in this regard by analyzing environmental effects in stipulating lease terms and approving mining plans. The court notes that its decision affects only the 183 lease applications outstanding at the time § 201 was amended in 1975. While the revised leasing scheme is being put into place, the court explains, the Secretary may negotiate an exchange for leases of similar value where environmental damage will result from granting such preference right leases to entitled parties.

Counsel for Appellants
Roger Beers
Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.
25 Kearny Street, San Francisco CA 94108
(415) 421-6561

Bruce J. Terris, Eleanor M. Granger
1526 18th St. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 332-1882

Counsel for Appellees
James W. Moorman, Ass't Attorney General; John J. Zimmerman, Robert L. Klarquist, Jacques B. Gelin
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-4519

Before: BAZELON, McGOWAN and ROBB, Circuit Judges.