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Pacific Legal Found. v. Watt

Citation: 12 ELR 20197
No. Nos. CV-81-141-BLG, -168-BLG, 529 F. Supp. 982/16 ERC 1825/(D. Mont., 12/16/1981)

The district court rejects challenges to § 204(e) of the Federal Land Policy and Managment Act (FLPMA) as it was relied upon by the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee in ordering the Secretary of the Interior to effect an emergency withdrawal of public lands. On June 1, 1981, in response to the Committee's emergency withdrawal resolution, the Secretary issued Public Land Order No. 5952 withdrawing the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Great Bear Wilderness Areas from mineral leasing until January 1, 1984. Initially, the court rules that the individual plaintiffs, who have applied for leases on lands within the three wilderness areas and are either members of the Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) or "supporters" of the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), have standing to bring the action since (1) the suspension of the lease applications resulting from Public Land Order No. 5952 constitutes injury-in-fact, (2) the right to have the lease applications properly considered by the Secretary is within the zone of interests protected by the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 and the Mining and Minerals Policy Act of 1970, and (3) the relief requested will redress the claimed injury.In addition, the MSLF has standing to represent its members, but the PLF as an oganization is without standing. Furthermore, the court rules that neither the Secretary's acquiescence in the Committee's resolution nor his position that § 204(e) of FLPMA is unconstitutional destroys the adverse nature of the case, and that the case is ripe for judicial review since resort to the administrative process, which has been terminated by the agencies responsible for its completion, would be futile. Turning to the merits of the case, the court rejects the contention that FLPMA does not authorize withdrawals from disposition under the mineral leasing laws, and rules that the language of the Act, case law, and relevant agency interpretations indicate that there is no traditional definition of "withdrawal" that prevents the Committee or the Secretary from withdrawing wilderness areas from mineral leasing. Next the court holds that, based upon the language of FLPMA, previous revocations of withdrawals by the Secretary, and the manner in which the Committee has previously exercised its withdrawal authority, § 204(e) implicitly authorizes the Secretary to revoke, after a reasonable time, an emergency withdrawal initiated by a congressional committee. Turning tothe constitutionality of § 204(e), the court states that the section would violate the separation of powers doctrine if it were interpreted to authorize a congressional committee to dictate the scope and duration of an emergency withdrawal. Therefore, the court rules that the resolution of the Committee directing the Secretary to withdraw the three wilderness areas until January 1, 1984 violates § 204(e) and impermissibly conflicts with § 4(d)(3) of the Wilderness Act of 1964. However, the court concludes that the Committee's authority to initiate an emergency withdrawal is not unconstitutional since the terms and duration of a § 204(e) withdrawal order are within the discretion of the Secretary, subject to judicial review, and therefore sufficiently similar to traditional Committee powers to pass constitutional muster. Given the Secretary's express commitment not to issue further leases in wilderness areas without providing ample notice to the Committee, the court orders the Secretary to revoke Public Land Order No. 5952 and determine the scope and duration of the withdrawal of the three wilderness areas.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Robin L. Rivett
Pacific Legal Foundation
455 Capitol Mall, Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 444-0154

Kea Bardeen, William H. Mellor III
Mountain States Legal Foundation
1200 Lincoln St., Denver CO 80203
(303) 861-0244

Counsel for Federal Defendant
Ezra D. Rosenberg
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-1308

Frank Meglen, Ass't U.S. Attorney
Federal Bldg., 316 N. 26th St., Billings MT 59103
(406) 657-6101

Joseph Dolan, U.S. Attorney; Richard Jost
C-330 U.S. Cthse., Drawer 3516, Denver CO 80294
(303) 837-2081

Counsel for Intervenors-Defendants
James E. Goetz
522 W. Main St., Bozeman MT 59715
(406) 587-0618

William S. Curtiss
Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Inc.
820 16th St., Denver CO 80202
(303) 892-6301

Counsel for Amici Curiae
Michael Davidson, Senate Legislative Counsel
1413 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg., Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-4435