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Pennsylvania Coal Ass'n v. Babbitt

ELR Citation: 26 ELR 20220
Nos. Nos. 94-7538, -7558, 63 F.3d 231/41 ERC 1351/(3d Cir., 08/16/1995)

The court holds that the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in approving amendments to Pennsylvania's surface mining regulatory program that eliminate the "willfully and knowingly" scienter requirement for imposition of civil penalties on corporate officers and that change the civil appeal procedures. The court first holds that §505(b) of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) applies to Pennsylvania's civil liability amendments, and that under that section, these amendments, which impose a more strict standard of individual liability, may not be construed as inconsistent with SMCRA. SMCRA's plain language and this court's precedent demonstrate that the district court's holding that §505(b) applies only to the imposition of more stringent substantive standards on coal mining operations, and thus does not apply to the state program amendments on the liability threshold, is too narrow. Section 505(b) reflects Congress' intent to give the states primary jurisdiction over regulation of surface mining as long as the states impose laws and regulations that meet minimum federal standards. The court notes that in this case, the state liability standard is directed to those who are regulated and is inclusive of the federal standard, as no person who is liable under the federal law will be able to avoid liability under the state standard. The court thus holds that the district court erred in invalidating DOI's approval of the civil liability amendments.

Turning to the civil appeals amendment, the court holds that the SMCRA regulations do not impose a duty on DOI to ensure that all elements of a state program are consistent with state law before approving any amendments. Under 30 C.F.R. §732.15(a), DOI must ensure consistency with the relevant provisions of federal law, and the findings relevant here were limited to the conclusion that the provisions in the amended civil appeals regulation are similar to the SMCRA regulations. The court notes that it need not consider the question whether DOI has the authority to reject proposed amendments to state programs due to their inconsistency with state law. The court also holds that the state program is not made inconsistent with the federal regulations by the fact that federal law allows an alleged violator to wait to contest a finding of violation until challenging any penalty imposed, whereas the state program amendments require such appeals to be made within 30 days of the compliance order. Because the state civil appeals amendment follows the federal procedures in assuring notice and an opportunity to be heard and merely restricts the timing of appeals, the court agrees with DOI's conclusion that the procedural requirements of the civil appeals amendment are "similar" to the procedural requirements available under SMCRA, as that term is used in SMCRA §518(i). The court holds that DOI's interpretation of "similar" in §518(i) is entitled to deference because it is not unreasonable and does not violate any clear statutory or regulatory mandate.

Counsel for Appellee
Stephen C. Braverman
Buchanan & Ingersoll
3000 Two Logan Sq.
18th & Arch Sts., 12th Fl., Philadelphia PA 19103
(215) 665-8700

Counsel for Appellants
Tamara N. Rountree
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Sloviter, Alito, and Schwarzer,* JJ.