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 CCC permit.
  • 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 preempted.
      • 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 California.
    • 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.