Mineral Policy Center v. Norton
292 F. Supp.2d 30 (D.D.C. 2003)
The Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) revised their regulations governing hardrock mining activities on
public lands (43 C.F.R. §3809).
BLM originally had a
regulations designed to prevent "unnecessary or undue
They had recently revised
their regulations to the "substantial irreparable harm" (SIH)
Under SIH, BLM would deny a
mining permit if the miner's plan could result in substantial
irreparable harm that could not be effectively mitigated.
The Bush administration came
into power, and BLM did an abrupt about-face and was revising §3809 to basically say that since
"unnecessary" sounded synonymous with "undue" only
unnecessary degradation would be prevented (and therefore degradation
that was undue but necessary would now be ok.)
Despite the fact that the
regulations says "unnecessary or undue", not "unnecessary and undue."
Environmental Groups, led by
the MPC sued for an injunction, claiming that the revisions would
substantially weaken or eliminate BLM's authority to protect lands from mining
The MPC argued that BLM's
governing Statute, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) required the BLM to "take any action necessary to prevent
unnecessary or undue degradation of the public lands."
BLM argued that the SIH
standard was overboard and outside of what FLPMA authorized. BLM was just going back to the
The Trial Court found for BLM.
The Trial Court found that FLPMA was clear and that BLM is to have regulations
that prevent unnecessary degradation but also degradation that, while
necessary to mining, is undue or excessive.
However, the Court found
that the terms "unnecessary" and "undue" are not
defined in FLPMA. As such, the
Court is to defer to Agency discretion on how to interpret ambiguous
terms within FLPMA.
See Chevron U.S.A.
Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council (467 U.S. 837 (1984)).