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National Mining Ass'n v. Kempthorne

ELR Citation: 38 ELR 20016
Nos. No. 06-5199, (D.C. Cir., 01/15/2008) aff'd

The D.C. Circuit upheld the U.S. Department of the Interior's (DOI's) interpretation of "valid existing rights" in a 1999 rule to foreclose surface mining operations in sensitive areas. A mining association argued that Congress inserted "valid existing rights" in the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) §522(e) to protect mineral owners' property rights and that the statute therefore allows surface mining by those with a property right to mine coal. Yet the phrase could also encompass a narrower protection, as set out in the 1999 rule. Because nothing in §522(e) suggests Congress intended to enact the former understanding over the latter, the term is ambiguous. In addition, the DOI's interpretation of "valid existing rights" in the 1999 rule is reasonable. The 1999 rule remains true to the authority delegated to the agency in SMCRA by protecting against the harmful effects of surface mining that Congress sought to ameliorate. Providing this protection is the primary aim of the statute. Hence, the rule is based on a permissible construction of SMCRA.

[A prior decision in this litigation can be found at 36 ELR 20090.]