Wilderness Society v. Morton
(The TAPS Case)
479 F.2d 842 (D.C. Cir. 1973)
In order to get oil from
northern Alaska back to civilization, the oil companies decided to build
the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (aka TAPS). This required building a
pipe all the way across the State, through a number of pieces of Federal
The Alyeska Pipeline Company
applied for a right-of-way and special land-use permits (SLUPs) from the
Dept. of the Interior (DOI) to allow them to build the pipe. DOI approved
Wilderness Society stepped in
and sued for an injunction.
Wilderness Society argued
that DOI had failed to comply with the requirements of the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when they issued the permits.
NEPA requires the preparation of an Environmental
Impact Statement (EIS), which Alyeska didn't bother to prepare.
Alyeska went back, wrote an
EIS, DOI approved it, Wilderness Society sued again for an injunction.
This time Wilderness Society
argued that the SLUPs were in violation of the Mineral Leasing Act (30 U.S.C. §185) because §28 only allows a right-of-way of up to 25 feet
on each side of the pipeline. DOI had granted Alyeska a right-of-way of
200-500 feet on each side.
Society was saying that the Mineral Leasing Act put explicit limits on what kind of SLUPs
DOI could issue, and DOI was ignoring that limitation.
Aleskya and DOI argued that
TAPS was such a huge project that it would be impossible to build with only
a 50 foot right-of-way.
The Appellate Court found for
Wilderness Society and issued an injunction.
The Appellate Court found
that §28 was very clear, and only
allowed for 25 feet per side. DOI had no authority to grant more than
DOI argued that the courts
should have maximum deference to administrative interpretations of
regulations, but the Court found that the principle of administrative
deference did not extend so far as to
allow DOI to violate an explicit law.
See Chevron U.S.A. Inc.
v. Natural Resources Defense Council
(467 U.S. 837 (1984)).
The Court suggested that if
DOI didn't like the way §28 was
written, they should go to Congress and ask them to rewrite it. They did
not have the authority to just ignore it.
DOI argued that since it
was impossible to build TAPS without violating §28, and since the general feeling was that
Congress wanted TAPS built, that Congress had implicitly acquiesced to
DOI's interpretation. But the Court felt that since it was a rather
obscure law, Congress probably didn't even know there was a problem, and
so their silence could not be equated with acquiescence.
After this decision, Congress
went back and amended §28 to allow
for larger right-of-way in certain cases, and the pipeline was eventually