California Coastal Commission v. Granite Rock Co.
480 U.S. 572 (1987)
Under the Mining Act of
1872 (now 30 U.S.C. §22 et
seq.), a private person is allowed to
enter Federal land, and look for minerals. If they find some, they can
stake a claim and get exclusive right to mine those minerals for free.
In addition, they can get a patent, which means that they get legal title to the
land (virtually free!).
Granite Rock was a mining
company. They had staked a claim (but did not hold a patent) on some Federal land in and around Los Padres
National Forest. They filed an Environmental Assessment (as required by
the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)), got it approved, and started to mine.
California stepped in and
claimed that under California law (the California Coastal Act), no one could start mining without first
getting a permit from the California Coastal Commission (CCC).
Granite Rock did not have a
Granite Rock sued to stop the
CCC from requiring a permit.
Granite Rock argued that
since they were operating on Federal land, California was preempted from requiring a permit.
Granite Rock did not argue
that there was a conflict of laws, just that any State permit is per se preempted because of the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.
The idea that the entire
concept is unconstitutional, not just unconstitutional as applied in this
specific case is known as a facial challenge. It says that there is nothing that California could do that wouldn't be
Granite Rock was arguing
that there was implied preemption,
basically means that the Federal government has so extensively regulated
that there is no room for State regulation.
Granite Rock also argued
that because of the Coastal Zone Management Act (16 U.S.C. §1451), Federal lands were defined to not
be in California's coastal zone, so weren't within CCC's jurisdiction.
The US Supreme Court found for
Basically, the US Supreme
Court found that in order for there to be preemption, there must be a complete, explicit conflict
(aka express preemption).
As long as CCC could show that it is at least possible to comply with
both the Federal and the State requirements, then the State law is not preempted.
The Court looked to the Mining
Act and found that it didn't say
anything about environmental regulation (not surprising considering when
it was passed), and the Forest Service regulations regarding getting a
claim approved (36 CFR §228.8)
included a clause saying that the claimant is required to get
"certification or other approval issues by State agencies...
So neither Congress nor the
Forest Service has even shown any intent to preempt State
law on the issue.
In fact, Granite Rock's NEPA permit specifically states that,
"Granite Rock is responsible for obtaining any necessary permits
required by the CCC."
Although technically you
could argue that anything preempted
by Federal law wouldn't be 'necessary'...
The Court noted that based
on the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), you could make an argument that there was legislative intent
to preempt laws related to land use, but the Court found
that there is a difference between 'environmental planning' and
'land-use' planning, so there is a chance that the CCC could regulate in
a way that wouldn't conflict with Federal laws.
Granite Rock's error was
that they argued all State laws
were preempted, which was
a very broad claim.
The Court was not ready to
say that there wasn't something
that CCC could do that would not be preempted.
In a dissent it was argued
that giving the State any power to block the exercise of rights granted by
the Forest Service was an abdication of Federal control over the use of
Federal land, and was therefore a violation of the Property Clause.
In general, in order for a
court to find implied preemption,
there must be evidence of a Congressional 'intent to occupy the field.'
See Ventura County v.
Gulf Oil Corp. (445 U.S. 947
(1980)), where the Court found that implied preemption
should be applied in a vary similar case.
If Congress doesn't intend
to occupy the field, there could still be express preemption, if Congress has passed a law that directly
conflicts with the State law.