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Natural Resources Defense Council v. Berklund

ELR Citation: 9 ELR 20047
Nos. No. 75-0313, 458 F. Supp. 925/12 ERC 1146/(D.D.C., 06/30/1978)

Granting in part and denying in part plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, the court rules that the Secretary of the Interior has no discretion under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 to deny preference right lease applications from prospectors who demonstrate the presence of commercial quantities of coal on public lands, but also holds that the environmental impact statement (EIS) requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) nonetheless apply to the issuance of such leases. An analysis of both the relevant sections of the Mineral Leasing Act and their legislative history indicates that the statute does not authorize the Secretary to reject applications for preference right leases on purely environmental grounds, a conclusion that is confirmed by 58 years of consistent administrative interpretation and practice. Nor can NEPA be viewed as providing supplementary authorization for the denial of preference right applications for environmental reasons, since that would present a statutory conflict with the Secretary's mandatory obligation under the Mineral Leasing Act to issue a lease once a commercial quantity of coal has been shown. Even though the Secretary has no discretion to deny such a lease application, the preparation of EISs analyzing the possible alternatives of land exchanges, the setting of environmentally protective lease terms, or the withdrawal of the public lands covered by the lease application is required prior to lease issuance. The Secretary is therefore enjoined from issuing preference right leases which constitute major federal actions with significant environmental effects without first preparing impact statements under NEPA.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Bruce J. Terris
1526 18th St. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 332-1882

Counsel for Defendants
Gerald S. Fish
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-5033

Counsel for Intervening Defendant Utah Power and Light Co.
Gerry Levenberg
Leonard, Cohen & Gettings
1700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20006
(202) 872-1095