451 U.S. 259 (1981), 79-1890, Watt v. Alaska

Docket Nº:No. 79-1890
Citation:451 U.S. 259, 101 S.Ct. 1673, 68 L.Ed.2d 80
Party Name:Watt v. Alaska
Case Date:April 21, 1981
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 259

451 U.S. 259 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 1673, 68 L.Ed.2d 80

Watt

v.

Alaska

No. 79-1890

United States Supreme Court

April 21, 1981

Argued January 13, 1981

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The Kenai National Moose Range was created in 1941 as a national wildlife refuge by withdrawing acreage from public lands in Alaska. Commercially significant quantities of oil underlie the Range, and the Secretary of the Interior issued oil and gas leases for the Range, beginning in the 1950's. The Secretary has distributed revenues from these leases according to the formula provided in § 35 of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, whereby 90% of the revenues are paid to Alaska and 10 to the United States Treasury. In 1964, § 401(a) of the Wildlife Refuge Revenue Sharing Act was amended so as to add the word "minerals" to the list of refuge resources, the revenues from which were to be distributed according to the formula provided in § 401(c) of that Act, whereby 25% of the revenues are paid to counties in which the wildlife refuge lies, and the remaining funds are used by the Department of the Interior for public purposes. The Department's Solicitor then made a determination, in which the Comptroller General concurred, that the amended § 401(a) superseded § 35 of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, with the result that the formula under § 401(c) was to be applied to oil and gas lease revenues from wildlife refuges. Petitioner Kenai Peninsula Borough, the "county" within which Moose Range lies, thereafter brought suit in Federal District Court, seeking a declaration that the amended § 401(a) governed the distribution of oil and gas revenues from the Range. Alaska also filed suit in the same court, seeking a declaration [101 S.Ct. 1675] that § 35 still governed such distribution, and the suits were consolidated. The District Court granted summary judgment for Alaska, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Revenues generated by oil and gas leases on federal wildlife refuges consisting of reserved public lands, as here, must be distributed according to the formula provided in § 35 of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920. Absent any expression of congressional intention to repeal

Page 260

§ 35 by implication, the term "minerals" in § 401(a) of the Wildlife Refuge Revenue Sharing Act applies only to minerals on land acquired for wildlife refuges. Pp. 265-273.

612 F.2d 1210, affirmed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 273. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 276.

POWELL, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The narrow issue presented by these cases is which of two federal statutes provides the formula for distribution of revenues received from oil and gas leases on national wildlife refuges reserved from public lands.

I

The Kenai National Moose Range was created in 1941 by the withdrawal of nearly two million acres from public lands on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. See Exec.Order No. 8979, 3 CFR 1043 (1938-1943 Comp.). See also Public Land Order No. 3400, 29 Fed.Reg. 7094-7095 (1964) (adjusting the boundaries). The Kenai Moose Range, as its name suggests, provides a refuge and breeding ground for moose. The Fish and Wildlife Service in the Department of the Interior administers it as part of the national wildlife refuge system.

Page 261

Commercially significant quantities of oil underlie the Kenai Moose Range.1 Pursuant to authority under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, 30 U.S.C. § 181 et seq., the Secretary of the Interior issued oil and gas leases for the Kenai Moose Range, beginning in the mid-1950's. See Udall v. Tallman, 380 U.S. 1 (1965). The United States has received substantial revenues from these leases.2 From first receipt in 1954, the Secretary has distributed these revenues according to the formula provided in § 35 of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, 41 Stat. 450, as amended, 30 U.S.C. § 191. This formula prescribes that 90% of the revenues be paid to the State of Alaska and 10% to the United States Treasury.3

Page 262

In 1975, the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service inquired of the Solicitor of [101 S.Ct. 1676] the Department of the Interior whether revenues from oil and gas leases in wildlife refuges created by withdrawal of public lands should be distributed according to § 401(c) of the Wildlife Refuge Revenue Sharing Act, 49 Stat. 383, as amended, 16 U.S.C. § 715s(c), rather than under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920. The Director's inquiry was prompted by the 1964 amendments to § 401(a), which added the word "minerals" to a list of refuge resources, the revenues from which were to be distributed according to the statutory formula.4 Pub.L. 88-523, 78 Stat. 701. According to this formula, 25% of the revenues are paid to counties wherein the refuge lies, and remaining funds are used by the Department of the Interior for public purposes.5

Page 263

The Solicitor ruled that the 1964 amendment governed, superseding § 35 of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920. App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 79-1890, p. 26a. The Comptroller General concurred in the view of the Solicitor. 55 Comp.Gen. 117 (1975). Upon request for reconsideration by the State of Alaska in 1976, the Comptroller General affirmed his initial decision. See Op.Comp.Gen. in File: B-118678, June 11, 1976, reprinted in App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 79--1890, p. 42a.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough then brought suit against the Secretary of the Interior in the United States District Court for the District of Alaska, seeking a declaration that the amended § 401(a) of the Wildlife Refuge Revenue Sharing Act governed the distribution of oil and gas revenues from the Kenai Moose Range. Kenai Borough is the "county" within which the Moose Range lies. If § 401(a) governs, it will receive 25% of the revenues, and the State none. The State of Alaska then filed suit in the same court against the Secretary and various federal officials, seeking a declaration that § 35 of the Mineral Leasing Act still governed distribution of these same oil and gas revenues. If that provision applies, the State will continue to receive 90% of the funds and, so far as federal law is concerned, Kenai Borough none. The District Court consolidated the lawsuits.6

The District Court granted summary judgment for the State of Alaska. 436 F.Supp. 288 (1977). Upon examination

Page 264

of the apparently conflicting statutes, the court held that the term "minerals" in the amended Wildlife Refuge Revenue Sharing Act referred only to oil and gas found on land acquired for wildlife refuges. Id. at 292. Distribution of oil and gas revenues from leases [101 S.Ct. 1677] on public land reserved for wildlife refuges, it held, continues to be determined by § 35 of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920.7 Ibid. The court viewed the legislative history of the 1964 amendments as demonstrating that Congress was concerned primarily with the difficulties of acquiring land for refuges, and that Congress expected no increase in revenues from the Kenai Moose Range to result from the amendments. Id. at 291-292.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. 612 F.2d 1210 (1980). That court found the legislative history largely ambiguous. Id. at 1213. It refused to find that the addition of the word "minerals" to the amended Wildlife Refuge Revenue Sharing Act had repealed by implication the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 without a clear showing that this was the intent of Congress. SeeMorton v. Mancari, 417 U.S. 535, 549-551 (1974). The court further approved the District Court's holding because it gave effect to each statute. 612 F.2d at 1214-1215.

We granted certiorari. Sub nom. Andrus v. Alaska, 449 U.S. 818 (1980),8 We now affirm.

Page 265

II

The Secretary and the Kenai Borough rely primarily on the "plain language" of § 401(a) of the Wildlife Refuge Revenue Sharing Act. They contend that it provides without ambiguity that mineral resources from all national wildlife refuges be distributed according to the formula described in § 401(a) of the Act. As currently phrased, § 401(a) provides:

[A]ll revenues received by the Secretary of the Interior from the sale or other disposition of animals, salmonoid carcassas [sic], timber, hay, grass, or other products of the soil, minerals, shells, sand, or gravel, [or] from other privileges . . . shall be . . . reserved in a separate fund for disposition as hereafter prescribed.

16 U.S.C. § 715s(a) (1976 ed., Supp. III). The provision defines the wildlife refuge system to include lands "acquired or reserved" for conservation and protection of certain fish and wildlife. No restriction is placed upon the common meaning of "minerals." Given this clarity, it is argued, resort to the legislative history is unnecessary or improper.

We agree with the Secretary that "[t]he starting point in every case involving construction of a statute is the language itself." Blue Chip Stamps v. Manor Drug Stores, 421 U.S.

Page 266

723, 756 (1975) (POWELL, J., concurring). See Rubin v. United States, 449 U.S. 424 (1981). But ascertainment of the meaning apparent on the face of a single statute need not end the inquiry. Train v. Colorado Public Interest Research Group, 426 U.S. 1, 10 (1976); United States v. American Trucking Assns. Inc., 310 U.S. 534, 543-544 (1940). This is because the plain meaning rule is "rather an axiom of experience than a rule of law, and does not preclude consideration of persuasive evidence if it exists." Boston Sand Co. v. United States, 278 U.S. 41, 48 (1928) (Holmes, J.).9 The circumstances of the enactment of particular legislation may persuade a court that Congress did not intend words of common meaning to have their literal effect. ...

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