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Watt v. Alaska

Citation: 11 ELR 20378
No. Nos. 79-1890, -1904, 451 U.S. 259/(U.S., 04/21/1981) Aff'd

Affirming the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, 10 ELR 20456, the Supreme Court holds that revenues received from oil and gas leases on national wildlife refuges reserved from public lands must be distributed according to the formula of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (MLA) rather than the formula under the 1964 amendments to the Wildlife Refuge Revenue Sharing Act (WRRSA). At issue is revenue from leases on the Kenai National Moose Range in Alaska. Under § 35 of the MLA, 90 percent of the federal revenues were paid to Alaska since payments began in 1954. In 1975, the Interior Department concluded that the 1964 amendments to the WRRSA required that 25 percent of the revenues be paid to the county in which the refuge was located and none be paid to the state. Although noting that the plain language of the statutes is the starting point for interpretation, the Court states that repeal of a prior law by implication is not favored. Thus, the 1964 amendments did not explicitly repeal the MLA. Further, the addition of "minerals" to the list of refuge resources in 1964 was intended to apply the distribution formula only to revenues from lands acquired for refuges in order to compensate counties that lost lands from their tax rolls, not to revenues consisting of reserved public lands.

Justice Stevens concurs in the result but argues that the Court should have respected the circuit court's judgment rather than devoting its scarce resources to the case.

Justice Stewart, joined by Chief Justice Burger and Justice Marshall, dissents, arguing that the plain meaning of the 1964 amendments shows that they were intended to supplant and MLA.

Counsel for Petitioners
Louis F. Claiborne, Deputy Solicitor General;Wade H. McCree Jr., Solicitor General; James W. Moorman, Ass't Attorney General; Dirk D. Snel, Nancy B. Firestone
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2201

Charles K. Cranston
Cranston, Walters & Dahl
Suite 407, 310 K St., Anchorage AK 99501
(907) 276-1994

Counsel for Respondents
G. Thomas Koester, Ass't Attorney General;
Wilson L. Condon, Attorney General
Pouch K, State Capitol, Juneau AK 99811
(907) 465-3600