The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled in the case of The Stearns Company v. US, reversing the decision of the U.S. Court of Claims that the mere enactment of the 1977 Surface Mining Act had effected a "physical takings" of Stearns' coal rights under the Daniel Boone National Forest. The lower court decision, if upheld, would have had a broader potential to undercut the 1977 federal mining law's regulation of mining in order to protect national forest lands. The Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Institute (GELPI) filed a "friend of the court" (amicus curiae) brief on behalf of the Kentucky Resources Council in the case, arguing that the U.S. Court of Claims violated takings law principles by blurring "physical" takings principles and "regulatory" takings law, and that the lower court had erred in concluding that Stearns suffered a "taking" of their mineral rights under the Daniel Boone National Forest from the mere requirement that, as a result of the adoption of the 1977 Surface Mining Act, the company would have to demonstrate that it either had valid existing rights of conduct mining on the federal lands or that the mining would be compatible with the protection of the use and values of the national forest.
The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the United States and KRC that no physical taking had occurred, calling Stearns' argument "little more than an incredible attempt to transform a regulatory taking claim into a per se physical taking." The Court agreed also that the regulatory takings claim was not "ripe" for court consideration since Stearns had not applied for a compatibility determination under the federal mining law. KRC is deeply appreciative of the work of the attorneys with the Office of Surface Mining and John Echeverria at GELPI.
To read the decision in pdf format, click here.
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