Ventura County v. Gulf Oil Corp.
601 F.2d 1080, aff'd without opinion, 445 U.S. 947 (1980)

  • The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gave Gulf Oil a lease to explore for oil in a National Forest located in Ventura County.
    • The lease was approved by a variety of Federal agencies, and the conditions for giving leases were contained in the Mineral Leasing Act (30 U.S.C. 185).
  • When Gulf Oil started to drill, Ventura sued for an injunction.
    • Ventura had a zoning ordinance that zoned the area as "open space." Ventura argued that in order to satisfy the zoning ordinance, Gulf would need to get a permit from the county planning commission.
      • Gulf did not have a permit.
  • The Trial Court found for Gulf Oil. Ventura appealed.
    • Gulf Oil argued that the BLM lease from the Federal government, preempted any local laws.
    • Ventura argued that Congress did not have the power under the Property Clause to preempt local laws.
    • Ventura argued that even if Congress did have the power, it only applies when Congress explicitly intends to preempt local laws, or there is a conflict between local laws and the Federal law, and the only way to resolve the conflict is to preempt the local law.
      • Since there's no conflict, why not force Gulf oil to get a Federal lease and a zoning permit?
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that the Property Clause and the Supremacy Clause give Congress the power to preempt Federal laws.
      • See Kleppe v. New Mexico (426 U.S. 529 (1976)).
    • The Court found that there were extensive environmental requirements already written into the lease. Since Ventura's zoning restrictions were really just an environmental requirement, there was a direct conflict between the lease and the zoning permit.
      • Basically, if the lease required Gulf Oil to take environmental precautions A, B, and C, then Ventura was preempted from also requiring Gulf Oil to do D, E, and F.
      • That's known as implied preemption, and basically means that the Federal government has so extensively regulated that there is no room for State regulation.
    • The Court noted that Gulf Oil is already required to meet Federal environmental laws (like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)), and if there is a problem, Ventura could use those laws to get a remedy.
      • Allowing Ventura to require permits would effectively give them veto power over decisions the Federal government makes.
  • Compare this case to California Coastal Commission v. Granite Rock Co. (480 U.S. 572 (1987)), where the US Supreme Court found that was no such thing as a implied preemption. In order to be preempted a local law and a Federal law must directly conflict (aka an express preemption).