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
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
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
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
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
DOI did not go through the
formal process of revoking the regulation until 2008 (thanks again