Utah Granted Intervention in Coal Leasing Case

A Utah District Court granted the State of Utah’s motion to intervene in a lawsuit involving a coal lease application in Sanpete County. The lease, which will allow mining in the Flat Canyon tract, an adjacent property to Skyline Mine, was approved by the Bureau of Land Management in 2015 and later challenged by WildEarth Guardians and Grand Canyon Trust.  While the merits of the case have yet to be determined, District Court Judge David Nuffer concluded that Utah’s interest in the outcome was sufficient to grant the state intervener status.

Skyline Mine employs approximately 240 people, and in 2015 contributed approximately $4.75 million in revenue for Utah

The ultimate ruling in the case will have serious implications for the state. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, Skyline Mine employs approximately 240 people, and in 2015 contributed approximately $4.75 million in revenue for Utah. The Flat Canyon Lease would extend the life of the mine and therefore provide a continued source of revenue and jobs. Based on the significance of this information the Court concluded, “Utah’s expected revenue from the Skyline Mine’s expansion into the Flat Canyon lease is an economic interest meriting intervener status”.

In addition to the economic stakes, the Court also acknowledged Utah’s sovereign regulatory responsibility. The State has an independent interest in making sure coal mining is conducted in an environmentally responsible way. State approval, which may include an independent environmental analysis, is therefore a pre-requisite to federal approval of all coal mining leases. Because, as Judge Nuffer explained, the federal and state roles in granting coal leasing permits are “intertwined,” the state must be able to speak for itself in defending this particular lease in Flat Canyon tract.

As an intervener, Utah will have standing to coordinate with the Federal Defendants in making official filings in the case. The Court placed no other limitations on its intervener status.

Wild Horses on Public Lands

The County Seat episode discussing the Wild Horse program administered by the BLM. The issues on the ground affect many users of both public and private lands.

“The Wild Horse is an icon of the American West. As such they were protected under the Horse and Burro Act in 1971. 43 years later that very protection may be one of the biggest threats to Wild Horses.”

Read more | The County Seat

Visit the BLM’s website for more information on this issue.

BYU Law Review on H.B. 148 – The Transfer of Public Lands

By Donald J. Kochan

PUBLIC LANDS AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S COMPACT-BASED “DUTY TO
DISPOSE”: A CASE STUDY OF UTAH’S H.B. 148−THE TRANSFER OF PUBLIC LANDS ACT

2013 B.Y.U. L. Rev. 1133

Abstract

Recent legislation passed in March 2012 in the State of Utah–the “Transfer of Public Lands Act and Related Study,” (“TPLA”) also commonly referred to as House Bill 148 (“H.B. 148”)–has demanded that the federal government, by December 31, 2014, “extinguish title” to certain public lands that the federal government currently holds (totaling an estimated more than 20 million acres). It also calls for the transfer of such acreage to the State and establishes procedures for the development of a management regime for this increased state portfolio of land holdings resulting from the transfer.

The State of Utah claims that the federal government made promises to it (at statehood when the federal government obtained the lands) that the federal ownership would be of limited duration and that the bulk of those lands would be timely disposed of by the federal government into private ownership or otherwise returned to the State. Longstanding precedents support the theory that Utah’s Enabling Act is a bilateral compact between the State and the federal government that should be treated like it is, and interpreted as, a binding contractual agreement.

Utah’s TPLA presents fascinating issues for the areas of public lands, natural resources, federalism, contracts, and constitutional law. It represents a new chapter in the long book of wrangling between states in the West and the federal government over natural resources and public lands ownership, control, and management. The impact is potentially considerable–thirty-one percent of our nation’s lands are owned by the federal government, and 63.9% of the lands in Utah are owned by the federal government.

This Article provides an overview of the legal arguments on both sides of the TPLA debate. In the end, there is a credible case that rules of construction favor an interpretation of the Utah Enabling Act that includes some form of a duty to dispose on the part of the federal government. At a minimum, the legal arguments in favor of the TPLA are serious and, if taken seriously, the TPLA presents an opportunity for further clarification of public lands law and the relationship between the states and the federal government regarding those lands. Moreover, other states are exploring similar avenues to assert their claims vis-à-vis the federal government and are in various stages of developing land transfer strategies that will model or learn from the TPLA. That fact further underscores the need for a renewed serious and informed legal discussion on the issues related to disposal obligations of the federal government. This Article takes a first step into that discussion.

Download full article | Copyright (c) 2013 Brigham Young University Law Review, Donald J. Kochan