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National Audubon Soc'y v. Hodel

ELR Citation: 15 ELR 20591
Nos. Nos. A83-425 et al., 606 F. Supp. 825/21 ERC 2069/(D. Alaska, 11/30/1984)

The court holds that the Secretary of the Interior's Public Interest Determination (PID) for the exchange of National Wildlife Refuge lands with three Alaska Native corporations under §1302(h) of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) misanalyzed the risks and benefits and led to a clear error in judgment, thereby invalidating the exchange. The court first grants the plaintiffs standing because their aesthetic, scientific, and recreational interests in the preservation of the land to be conveyed to the corporations are both unique to them personally and within the zone of interests protected by ANILCA. The court rejects the defendants' argument that the Secretary's PID was committed to agency discretion by law, since the Secretary's authority is constrained by ANILCA and the availability of an administrative record facilitates judicial review. The court accepts the Secretary's broad definition of public interest, which includes the benefits of increased oil production, holding that it is a permissible construction of ANILCA.

The court first analyzes the alleged environmental benefits of the exchange of land interests to the United States. Considering the easement against development of Kokechik Bay, the court finds that the bay, by virtue of its location within a National Wildlife Refuge, is already protected by §22(g) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) against use inconsistent with the purposes of the refuge. Furthermore, ANILCA and §404 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act guard against injury to the environment and to subsistance uses of the bay and adjoining areas. Turning to the relinquishment of parcels on Nunivak Island, the court finds that §§14(h) and 22(g) of ANSCA already provide protection substantially equivalent to the effect of the relinquishment. The court then finds that governmental control of the Kenai Peninsula would benefit the recreational objectives of the Kenai refuge, but that there is no evidence that public access to the peninsula is threatened.

The court then considers the possibility that transfer of portions of St. Matthew's Island to the corporations is incompatible with the purposes of the refuge. The court rejects the Secretary's characterization of the potential oil exploration and development risks as "temporary" and "remote," as well as his suggestion that both future regulation and stipulations in the exchange agreement will mitigate any environmental impact. Furthermore, the court finds little evidence to support the Secretary's claims of other advantages, namely the facilitation of lands claims and the optimality of siting energy development on St. Matthew's Island. Concluding that the benefits of the exchange are minimal and the risks great, the court holds that the Secretary's decision was a clear error of judgment and both invalidates the exchange and grants a preliminary injunction against construction on St. Matthew's Island.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Kenneth Berlin
Winston & Strawn
Suite 500, 2250 M St. NW, Washington DC 20037
(202) 828-8400

Counsel for Defendants
Stephen C. Hillard
Munger, Tolles & Richershauser
Suite 840, 550 W. Seventh Ave., Anchorage AK 99501
(907) 276-3820

William H. Bittner
1127 W. Seventh Ave., Anchorage AK 99501
(907) 276-1550