United States of America
Biodiversity, Wildlife, Land Use, Wetlands, Prevention, Permits, Administrative, Jurisdiction, Property, Forests
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved a land exchange with Asarco, a mining company. Asarco plans to operate a mine on the land it received in exchange from the United States. If the proposed land exchange does not occur, the United States will continue to own the land, and Asarco could mine only if BLM approved a Mining Plan of Operations (MPO). If the proposed land exchange does occur, Asarco will own the land and would not be required to submit an MPO to BLM for approval. Before approving the land exchange, BLM was required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In the EIS, BLM assumed without analysis that the MPO process would impose no constraints on, and would have no effect on, Asarco’s mining operations. The Center for Biological Diversity sued BLM, alleging that BLM’s approval of the land exchange violation NEPA, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), and the Mining Law of 1872. The district court granted summary judgment to BLM. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed and held that BLM’s assumption that mining would occur on the land Asarco received in the exchange in the same manner regardless whether the United States or Asarco owned the land was arbitrary and capricious because BLM failed to take a hard look at the environmental consequences of the exchange. Therefore, BLM violated NEPA. BLM relied on the same assumption to conclude the exchange was in the public interest, as required by FLPMA. The Ninth Circuit held that this reliance was arbitrary and capricious and, therefore, that BLM also violated FLPMA. Judge Tallman dissented from the opinion on the ground that the majority failed to give sufficient deference to BLM’s determinations.