Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

United States v. Shelton Coal Corp.

ELR Citation: 18 ELR 20565
Nos. No. 86-2606, 829 F.2d 1336/26 ERC 1949/(4th Cir., 10/02/1987)

The court holds that regulations adopted by the Secretary of the Interior in 1982 to clarify the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act's (SMCRA's) two-acre exemption may not be applied retroactively to nullify an exemption granted by Virginia to a deep coal mining operation. The 1982 regulations addressed the problem of accounting for jointly used haulage roads by providing that such roads would be double counted against each operation using the road. The court rejects the United States' argument that the 1982 regulation was merely a clarification of an existing federal requirement. The Department of the Interior gave little consideration to the issue before 1981 and two administrative law judge decisions held that jointly used roads should be attributed to the permittee only. The Secretary conditionally approved Virginia's proposed permanent program regulations in December 1981, including the provision that jointly used haulage roads be counted only once, and the conditions on approval did not concern the single counting provision. Further, the Secretary's notice of proposed rulemaking stated that the issue was unclear and that the Department would propose an entirely new two-acre rule. The court holds that Virginia's decision to issue the exemption was within its delegated authority under SMCRA. Virginia had been delegated front-line operational authority and this authority includes exemption of small commercial operators. The court holds that the district court properly held that it would be unfair to apply the 1982 regulation retroactively. The operator reasonably relied on the exemption, the reclamation fees sought by the United States could cause defendant to abandon its operations, the Secretary has decided to apply the 1982 regulation prospectively, and neither the notice of proposed rulemaking nor the regulation itself gave any indication that the new regulation would be applied retroactively.

Counsel for Plaintiff-Appellant
Maria A. Iizuka
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2753

Counsel for Defendant-Appellee
Daniel Robert Bieger
Copeland, Molinary & Bieger
P.O. Drawer 1296-212, Abingdon VA 24210-1296
(703) 628-9525

Before HALL and SPROUSE, Circuit Judges, and HAYNSWORTH, Senior Circuit Judge.