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National Coal Ass'n v. Hodel

ELR Citation: 18 ELR 20039
Nos. No. 85-6090, 825 F.2d 523/(D.C. Cir., 08/11/1987)

The court holds that a land exchange under §206 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) involving land holdings within Grand Teton National Park and federal coal-bearing lands in Wyoming is in the public interest despite potential anticompetitive effects. Three universities and a research center arranged to sell their land holdings in the park, acquired through bequests, to an energy development company, which in turn proposed to grant the lands to the federal government in return for more suitable coal lands in Wyoming where it already owned several tracts. The National Park Service had not been able to purchase the park lands outright due to lack of funds. The court first holds that a trade association whose members are competitors of the coal company has standing to sue under the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA). Plaintiffs' allegations of competitive threat as a result of the company consolidating its coal-bearing land holdings satisfy constitutional requirements. Plaintiffs are also arguably within the zone of interests to be protected by the MLA, since the Act prohibits the grant of federal coal leases to railroads. Although it is not clear whether the prohibition extends to a company affiliated with a railroad through a common corporate parent, plaintiffs have sufficiently asserted an interest that plausibly relates to the MLA's underlying policies of preventing discrimination in transportation. The court then holds that the MLA does not prohibit the exchange even if the coal company is a railroad within the meaning of the Act. Although §37 of the MLA mandates that federal coal lands be subject to disposition only in accordance with that statute, it also provides an exception for land exchanges conducted in accordance with FLPMA §206.

The court holds that plaintiffs have standing to sue under FLPMA. Plaintiffs have satisfied the constitutional requirements. Plaintiffs are also arguably within the zone of interests protected by FLPMA. Competitive interests can besaid to fall within the protected zone, and plaintiffs claim that the Secretary of the Interior ignored the requirement of §206 that an exchange be in the public interest by not considering competitive impacts. The court holds, however, that the Secretary did consider the potential anticompetitive effect of the exchange and properly found that the exchange was in the public interest. The coal in question represents a miniscule percentage of the federal coal disposed of in Wyoming alone. Moreover, the exchange will preserve national park lands, further the educational and health-research objectives of the institutions selling the land, and aid the coal company's commercial objectives—all relevant factors in the Secretary's determination of the public interest.

The court next holds that it does not have jurisdiction to review the order of December 10. Petitioners were parties to the dispute before the agency that resulted in the December 10 order, because petitioners had properly requested a hearing pursuant to the NRC's own regulations, and the order pertained to that hearing request. However, in order to be reviewable under 28 U.S.C. §2342 and §2344, the agency order must have been final. The court holds that the NRC's December 10 order, which only denied petitioner's request for an immediate hearing and did not address whether they would receive an unexpedited hearing, was not final. Finally, the court holds that it has no jurisdiction to review the February 19 order because petitioners did not file a petition for review within 60 days of the order's entry, as required by 28 U.S.C. §2344.

Counsel for Appellants
Jerome H. Simonds
Freedman, Levy, Kroll & Simonds
Suite 825, 1050 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036-5366
(202) 457-5100

Counsel for Appellee
Dirk D. Snel, Jacques B. Gelin
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-4400

Before: WALD, Chief Judge, WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge, and WILL,* Senior District Judge.