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
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
The Court found that NEPA did not give discretion to deny a lease to a
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
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