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Northern Plains Resource Council v. Lujan

Citation: 19 ELR 20861
No. No. 87-4453, 874 F.2d 661/(9th Cir., 05/09/1989)

The court holds that an exchange of fee coal interests between the Department of the Interior (DOI) and a mining company complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and with the applicable management framework plan (MFP). The court initially notes that the adequacy of an environmental impact statement (EIS) is reviewed under a rule of reason that gives deference to agency expertise. The court then holds that DOI complied with NEPA § 102(2)(C) in relying on an environmental assessment of the exchange that was premised on a prior EIS on federal coal leasing in the region. The significant environmental impacts of the exchange will be indistinguishable from those considered in the EIS, although the EIS addressed coal leasing rather than exchange and did not cover all the exchanged land, and cumulative impacts of coal development were also discussed. Moreover, the exchange does not require detailed site-specific discussions of speculative possibilities such as the possibility of building a synthetic fuel plant. The court holds that DOI was sufficiently informed of the development alternatives and their reasonably foreseeable significant environmental impacts.

The court next holds that plaintiffs do not have a cause of action or standing to challenge the exchange under the equal value requirement of Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) § 206(b). Plaintiffs have no private cause of action to challenge the land patent granted to the mining company because they have no legal property interest in the land. They lack standing because they have suffered no injury related to DOI's equal value determination. They have not shown that the exchange reduced the value of the federal tract and thus would reduce the federal funds available to mitigate adverse mining impacts. The court holds that the exchange complied with the applicable MFP, which expressly authorizes leasing but does not mention exchanges. DOI reasonably interpreted its regulations requiring that exchanges conform with land use plans to allow exchanges that are not specifically mentioned in a plan, but are clearly consistent with it. The court also holds that FLPMA § 206 does not require DOI to amend the MFP to address the exchange.

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

David C. Masselli
8260 Greensboro DR., Ste. 260, McLean VA 22102
(703) 556-9550

Counsel for Defendants-Appellees
Myles E. Flint, Fred R. Disheroon
Land and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2000

Before Wright and Alarcon, JJ.