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Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment v. Bureau of Indian Affairs

ELR Citation: 49 ELR 20127
Nos. 17-17320, (9th Cir., 07/29/2019)

The Ninth Circuit upheld dismissal of a lawsuit challenging a set of agency decisions that reauthorized coal mining activities on lands reserved to the Navajo Nation. In the district court, environmental groups argued that the agencies failed to consider the impact of the mining on the environment and endangered species. The mine's tribal owner sought to intervene, and subsequently asserted that it was a required party but that it could not be joined due to tribal sovereign immunity, and that the suit could not proceed in its absence. The district court agreed, granting the mine's motion and dismissing the suit. On appeal, the groups argued the mine was not a required party because it did not have a legally protected interest in the agencies' compliance with environmental laws. The court found the mine was a required party because the outcome of the suit could affect the mine's already-negotiated lease agreements and expected revenue for the tribe. The groups then argued that the agencies could represent the mine's interest. But the appellate court again found the mine was a required party because the agencies could not be counted on to adequately protect the mine's economic interest when their overriding interest lay in complying with environmental laws. Because the mine was determined to be a required party but could not feasibly be joined due to tribal sovereign immunity—it was wholly owned by the tribe, was formed to purchase the mine for the Navajo Nation, and all of its profits went to the tribal government—the appellate court held that the district court did not err in concluding the suit could not continue in the mine's absence. It therefore affirmed the dismissal.