RESPONDENT: Virginia Surface Mining & Reclamation Association, Inc.
LOCATION: Western District Court of Kentucky
DOCKET NO.: 79-1538
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
CITATION: 452 US 264 (1981)
ARGUED: Feb 23, 1981
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1981
J. Marshall Coleman - on behalf of Appellees (No. 79-1538) and of Appellants (No. 79-1596)
Marshall Coleman - for appellees in 79-1538 and for appellants in 79-1596
Peter Buscemi - on behalf of Appellant (No. 79-1538) and of Appellees (No. 79-1596)
Facts of the case
Media for Hodel v. Virginia Surface Mining & Reclamation Association, Inc.
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 23, 1981 in Hodel v. Virginia Surface Mining & Reclamation Association, Inc.
Warren E. Burger:
We will hear arguments next in Secretary of Interior v. The Surface Mining Company and the related case.
Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
This case, like the one that follows it, involves several challenges to the constitutionality of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.
This case is here on direct appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia.
The original plaintiffs were an association of coal mining companies and 63 of its members.
The Commonwealth of Virginia intervened as a plaintiff in the District Court.
The primary constitutional provisions involved are the Commerce Clause, Article I, Section 8; the Tenth Amendment; and the Just Compensation and Due Process Clauses of the Fifth Amendment.
I plan to address the constitutional questions in that order after I first describe the statutory provisions that are at issue here in the overall statutory scheme for regulating surface mining of coal.
For present purposes the critical portion of the statute is Title V which is entitled,
"Control of Environmental Impacts of Surface Coal Mining. "
Section 501 of the Act establishes a two-stage program for the regulation of surface mining.
During the initial stage, also called the interim stage in the Secretary's regulations, mine operators are required to comply with only some of the performance standards set up by the Act.
Among the ones applicable during this interim stage are the so-called steep slope provisions in Section 515(d).
They apply to surface mining on slopes greater than 20 degrees.
They require mine operators to avoid the placement of debris, spoil material, or abandoned equipment on the downslope beneath the mining cut.
They further require restoration of the mining site to its approximate original contour after mining is completed, and complete coverage of the so-called high wall, which is the vertical face of the mine cut.
Another portion of the Act that becomes immediately effective during the interim period is Section 522(e), particularly 522(e)(4) and (5), which with various qualifications and exceptions prohibit surface mining altogether within specified distances of roads, schools, churches, parks, public buildings, and cemeteries.
During the interim period the Secretary of the Interior is primarily responsible for enforcing the Act.
The interim regulatory program remains in effect in each state until a permanent program has been established in that state.
States wishing to assume primary responsibility for regulation of surface coal mining during the permanent phase must submit to the Secretary a proposed permanent program demonstrating, first, that the state legislature has adopted the necessary laws implementing the environmental protection standards established by the Act.
And second, that the state has the administrative and the technological capability to enforce those standards.
William H. Rehnquist:
Mr. Buscemi, supposing that that statute at the phase you now describe didn't talk about coal at all, it simply talked about the desirability of zoning on a national level, and Congress passed a law saying that for any state that doesn't zone land and keep a certain amount of prime farm land in existence that is now in existence, we will supersede that state's regulatory power with our own zoning act.
Do you think it has the power under the Commerce Clause to do that?
Well, I'm not sure that I completely appreciate the question, Mr. Justice Rehnquist, because I'm not sure that I understand the factual underpinning that Congress would have for that sort of regulation.
My answer to that question and hypotheticals of that kind is essentially that if Congress finds, and has a rational basis for finding, that a particular situation that exists in the states is affecting interstate commerce.
And if Congress devises a method that's rationally related to the protection of the regulation of interstate commerce, the statute is constitutional.
I'm not sure what the justification would be for the statute that you've just suggested, but I think that the test would be the same as it is here.
William H. Rehnquist:
Well, in Chief Justice Hughes' opinion in Jones & Laughlin v. NLRB, when he was upholding the National Labor Relations statute, he said that, regarding the Commerce Clause,
"Undoubtedly the scope of this power must be considered in the light of our dual system of government and may not be extended so as to embrace effects upon interstate commerce so indirect and remote that to embrace them in view of our complex society would effectually obliterate the distinction between what is national and what is local and create a completely centralized government. "