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Peabody Coal Co. v. Watt

ELR Citation: 13 ELR 20761
Nos. Nos. 81-645 et al., 553 F. Supp. 1201/18 ERC 1585/(D.D.C., 12/03/1982)

The court upholds a Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) regulation exempting some mines from prime farmland reclamation requirements of §510(d), but invalidates a regulation setting a termination date for the exemption. First, the court considers the regulation limiting exemptions to those areas where the permittee had "a legal right to mine" prior to SMCRA's enactment. The court holds that the "legal right" regulation is consistent with the statutory language and congressional intent as interpreted by the court of appeals in litigation over previous regulations, 10 ELR 20465. Although plaintiffs' interpretation, granting an exemption where the permitted had preclusive control over a seam, may also be reasonable, the Secretary was within his discretion in rejecting the plaintiffs' standards. The Secretary's decision is supported by the record, and the Secretary properly considered comments favoring plaintiffs' standards in making his decision.

Second, the court strikes down a regulation that would have terminated all exemptions for existing operations as of April 1983. The language and legislative history of §510(d) suggest that the exemptions are to be without time limits. The court of appeals' opinion holding that Congress expected the exemptions to apply uniformly in all states does not support a uniform cutoff of exemptions. And the Secretary's contention that all preexisting exemptions will terminate anyway when the permanent regulatory program becomes effective is erroneous.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Warner W. Gardner, John A. Macleod
Shea & Gardner
1800 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 822-1000

Counsel for Defendants
Alfred T. Ghiorzi, Larry M. Corcoran
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2306