National Wildlife Federation v. Watt
571 F.Supp. 1145 (D.D.C. 1983)

  • The Department of the Interior (DOI) proposed to lease large amounts of Federal land to private companies to mine for coal.
    • The General Accounting Office reported that these coal leases were being given out for $100M below market value.
  • The House Interior Committee stepped in and withdrew the lands from leasing.
    • In general, DOI retains the authority to decide which lands should be leased and which lands should be preserved. However under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA)(43 U.S.C. 1714(e)), Congress had the power to make an emergency withdrawal of lands when "extraordinary measures must be taken to preserve values that would otherwise be lost."
      • Under 1714(e) either the House or the Senate could approve an emergency withdrawal.
  • DOI refused to make the withdrawal.
    • DOI argued that based on INS v. Chada (462 U.S. 919 (1983)), the House did not have the power to block the leases unicamerally.
      • Chada basically said that Congress couldn't take unicameral action. Both the House and Senate had to approve something. Otherwise it's a violation of the Presentment Clause.
  • Various environmental groups (led by NWF) sued to force DOI to withdraw the lands.
  • The Trial Court found for NWF and issued an injunction preventing the leases.
    • The Trial Court found that the Property Clause (Article IV, 3, cl. 2), which authorized Congress (not the President) to dispose of public lands, might be held to give Congress the power to override DOI's decision.
      • The Court felt that was enough to issue a preliminary injunction.
    • The Court found that DOI had a regulation specifically implementing 1714(e) (43 C.F.R. 2310.5(a)). Sua sponte, the Court found that regardless of the constitutionality of FLPMA, DOI was bound to follow its own regulations.
      • The Court suggested that if DOI wanted to challenge FLPMA they first had to change their own regulations binding them to follow it.
  • Essentially, this decision was a punt by the Trial Court, since they did not want to decide this case (which could have resulted in the complete collapse of FLPMA since there is no severability clause in the Statute).
    • DOI did not go through the formal process of revoking the regulation until 2008 (thanks again President Bush!).