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Hodel v. Virginia Surface Mining & Reclamation Association

United States Supreme Court
452 U.S. 264, 101 S.Ct. 2352, 69 L.Ed.2d 1 (1981)


After six years of hearings, Congress enacted the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) as a comprehensive regulatory scheme intended to protect the public and environment from harmful effects of surface coal mining nationwide. The statute explicitly recited that Congress found “many surface mining operations result in disturbances of surface areas that burden and adversely affect commerce and the public welfare” by causing erosion, floods, pollution, and hazards that degrade the quality of life in local communities and counteract natural-resource conservation efforts. The Virginia Surface Mining and Reclamation Association, Inc., 63 of its members, and four landowners (coplaintiffs) sued the Secretary of the Interior (defendant), who enforced the regulations. Virginia and the town of Wise, Va., (coplaintiffs) intervened. The lawsuit primarily challenged interim performance standards that SMCRA imposed on surface coalminers until states adopted their own regulatory programs, including measures like having to restore and revegetate mined areas, remove spoil, and minimize water-table disturbances. The claimants asserted multiple constitutional challenges, including that the regulations exceeded Congress’s Commerce Clause power and thus violated the limits set by the Fifth and Tenth Amendments. The district court enjoined enforcement of several key provisions, reasoning that they displaced states from traditional state functions and effectively took private property without just compensation. The Secretary appealed, and the Supreme Court consolidated the case with another raising similar issues and granted review.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Marshall, J.)

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