In Castle Mountain Coalition v. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, several non-profit organizations and the governing body of a federally-recognized Native Village challenged a federal agency’s determination that a state may interpret the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) to require an administrative proceeding be initiated in order to terminate a coal mining permit (rather than automatic termination) when the permit holder fails to commence mining operations within three years of the permit issuance. The federal District Court of Alaska determined that the SMCRA unambiguously requires “that a surface mining permit terminates by operation of law if mining operations have not timely commenced under that statute unless an extension has been granted pursuant to the statute’s terms.” Accordingly, the District Court vacated the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s determination that SMCRA does not require permit termination when surface coal mining operations have not commenced within three years of permit issuance and no valid permit extension has been granted.
The text of the legal provision at issue in this case is the following from the SMCRA:
A [surface coal mining] permit shall terminate if the permittee has not commenced the surface coal mining operations covered by such permit within three years of the issuance of the permit: Provided, That the regulatory authority may grant reasonable extensions of time upon a showing that such extensions are necessary by reason of litigation precluding such commencement or threatening substantial economic loss to the permittee, or by reason of conditions beyond the control and without the fault or negligence of the permittee[.]
30 U.S.C. § 1256(c), available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/30/1256.