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Coal River Energy, LLC v. Jewell

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

May 13, 2014

COAL RIVER ENERGY, LLC, APPELLANT
v.
SALLY JEWELL, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR AND UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, APPELLEES

Argued, April 4, 2014

Page 660

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 1:11-cv-01648).

Steven H. Becker argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.

Tara K. Hogan, Senior Trial Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the cause for appellees. With her on the brief were Stuart F. Delery, Assistant Attorney General, and Jeanne E. Davidson, Director.

Before: KAVANAUGH and WILKINS, Circuit Judges, and SILBERMAN, Senior Circuit Judge. Opinion for the Court filed by Senior Circuit Judge SILBERMAN.

OPINION

Page 661

Silberman, Senior Circuit Judge

Under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, operators of coal mines must pay a fee for each ton of coal they produce by mining. The purpose of the fee is to fund the restoration of land damaged by coal mining. A Department of the Interior regulation requires mine operators to pay the reclamation fee when the coal is ultimately sold or used, rather than immediately after the coal is removed from the ground. Appellant, a coal mine operator, sued the Secretary in district court, arguing that the regulation could not be constitutionally applied to coal sold for export because the Export Clause of the Constitution states that " No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any state." U.S. Const. Art. I, § 9, cl. 5. The district court dismissed the case as untimely. We affirm.

I.

In 1977, Congress enacted the Reclamation Act, establishing a fee on all coal mined in the United States. The Act set a fee of " 28 cents per ton of coal produced by surface coal mining and 12 cents per ton of coal produced by underground mining." 30 U.S.C. § 1232(a). Immediately after the coal is removed from the ground it is impure, mixed with other rocks and dirt. So if the coal were weighed at that moment, it would be impossible to determine exactly how much mass is attributable to coal and how much to other impurities. The Secretary of the Interior, recognizing that problem, promulgated the following rule:

(a) The operator shall pay a reclamation fee on each ton of coal produced for sale, transfer, or use, including the products of in situ mining.
(b) The fee shall be determined by the weight and value at the time of initial bona fide sale, transfer of ownership, or use by the operator .

30 C.F.R. ยง 870.12 (emphasis added). Measuring the weight of the coal at the time of sale increases accuracy, as most impurities will likely have been removed. The total weight -- ...


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