Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. Berklund
609 F.2d 553 (D.C. Cir. 1979)

  • Under the Mineral Lands Leasing Act (30 U.S.C. 181) the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had the authority to ask companies to prospect on Federal lands for minerals.
    • If the companies found some minerals (in this case coal), they could get a preferential lease, which meant they didn't have to go through a competitive bidding process.
    • The companies found some coal, and asked for their lease.
      • Coal mining can cause lots of environmental damage.
  • NRDC sued for a declaratory judgment allowing BLM to reject a coal mining lease application on environmental grounds.
    • NRDC argued that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) meant that an Agency couldn't grant a lease until an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) had been completed.
    • BLM (and some companies that intervened) argued that under the Mineral Leasing Act they had no discretion to deny the leases.
  • The Trial Court found for the BLM. NRDC appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that there is no discretion to deny a preference lease. They must be given automatically once the permittee fulfilled the requirements of the Mineral Leasing Act.
      • The only condition required to obtain a lease was to establish that there was a commercial quantity of coal.
      • The Court found that NEPA did not give discretion to deny a lease to a qualified applicant.
    • However, the Court did note that once the lease is granted, BLM regulations require an operating plan (as opposed to lease terms) to protect the environment, and that operating plan may require an EIS, and could place significant restrictions on mining activities that could harm the environment.
      • So in a way, NRDC got what they wanted, which was an EIS performed before mining activities could start.
  • Compare to Kerr-McGee Corp. v. Hodel (630 F.Supp. 621 (1986)), where it was held that DOI does have the discretion to deny a preference lease.