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Rocky Mountain Oil & Gas Ass'n v. Andrus

Citation: 11 ELR 20036
No. No. C78-265K, 500 F. Supp. 1338/(D. Wyo., 11/07/1980)

The court vacates an opinion of the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior interpreting § 603(c) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) to require imposition of restrictions upon mineral development by oil and gas lessees on lands being considered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for possible wilderness designation. In 1978, the Solicitor issued a legal opinion stating that under § 603 development which would impair the wilderness characteristics of any tract designated a wilderness study area (WSA) is not permitted. As a result mineral development in WSAs has been limited because of potential environmental impairment. The court first determines that the issue is ripe for judicial review because (1) the issue is a matter strictly of statutory interpretation, (2) plaintiff's members hold leases on the affected lands and will suffer hardship if judicial review is withheld, and (3) the opinion constitutes a binding determination of law and policy amounting to "final agency action" within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Applying the standard of review set out in § 706 of the APA, the court rules that the Solicitor's interpretation of § 603 is arbitrary and capricious. Although the provision does call for the prevention of undue degradation of WSAs, it also provides for the continuation of mineral leasing in the same manner and degree as was the case prior to 1976.Thus, defendant's limitations on mineral development conducted on WSAs pursuant to pre-1976 leases violates §§ 603 and 701 and the policy of Congress, as expressed in the Act, of promoting resource development on public lands. Similarly, the court rules that leases issued after the 1978 opinion which contain wilderness protection stipulations, also deprive lessees of their development rights contrary to § 102 of FLPMA.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Craig R. Carver, Pamela A. Ray
Head, Moye, Carver & Ray
600 Equitable Bldg., 730 17th St., Denver CO 80202
(303) 623-1770

Houston G. Williams, Barry G. Williams
Williams, Porter, Day & Neville
Suite 700, First Nat'l Bank Bldg., Casper WY 82601
(307) 265-0700

Counsel for Defendants
Charles E. Graves, U.S. Attorney
P.O. Box 668, Cheyenne WY 82001
(307) 778-2220 ext. 2126

Carolyn P. Osolinik, Steven A. Herman
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-5396

Counsel for Intervenors Sierra Club et al.
Laurens H. Silver
Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Inc.
311 California St., Suite 311, San Francisco CA 94104
(415) 398-1411

John F. Wiener
260 N. 4th St., Laramie WY 82070
(307) 742-0317