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Earthworks v. U.S. Department of the Interior

496 F. Supp. 3d 472 (2020)

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Earthworks v. U.S. Department of the Interior

United States District Court for the District of Columbia

496 F. Supp. 3d 472 (2020)

Facts

In Mineral Policy Center v. Norton, 292 F. Supp. 2d 30 (D.D.C. 2003), the District Court for the District of Columbia held that mining operations that were neither explicitly protected by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 or the Mining Law of 1872 nor conducted pursuant to a valid mining claim must be evaluated considering Congress’s expressed policy goal for the federal government to receive fair market value for the use of public lands and their resources. The court remanded the matter to the United States Department of the Interior (the department) (defendant) with instructions to give proper effect to this policy goal. In 2008, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a rule confirming that it would not inquire about the validity of mining claims used exclusively for the dumping of waste and other ancillary uses. The BLM took the position that unvalidated mining claims were protected by the Mining Law of 1872, that Mineral Policy Center did not require BLM to charge fair market value for claims of unknown validity, and that neither Mineral Policy Center nor the Mining Law of 1872 required the BLM to routinely examine the validity of mining claims. The BLM emphasized that it had a longstanding practice of presuming the validity of mining claims and permitting mining operations without requiring formal claim-validity examinations. The BLM also asserted that conducting full validity examinations on the over 250,000 existing mining claims would result in costs far exceeding its annual operating budget. A coalition of environmental groups (the coalition) (plaintiffs) challenged the BLM’s 2008 rule, arguing that the Mining Law of 1872 did not protect mining claims that had not been independently validated by the BLM. Therefore, the coalition argued, the BLM was not permitted to presume the validity of such claims. Instead, the coalition asserted, a mining claim gained the protection of the Mining Law of 1872 only after the BLM independently examined the claim and determined it to be valid. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Contreras, J.)

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