WASHINGTON — In a victory for environmentalists, a sharply divided Supreme Court ruled today that the California Coastal Commission has the legal authority to require a limestone-mining operation in the heart of Big Sur to obtain state as well as federal permits.
In the 5-4 decision, the justices reversed the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which had held that federal laws governing national forests preempted any state permit requirement.
The decision--a victory for environmentalists and for state efforts to protect the environment--could boost state environmental regulation of mining on 140 million acres of federal land, much of it in the West.
Mining industry representatives and the Reagan Administration had urged the justices to uphold the appeals court's ruling.
But Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the court that regulations imposed on such mining by the federal Forest Service "not only are devoid of any expression of intent to preempt state law but rather appear to assume that those submitting plans of operations will comply with state laws."
She was joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices William J. Brennan, Thurgood Marshall and Harry A. Blackmun.
Justices Lewis F. Powell, John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia and Byron R. White dissented.
California authorities had defended environmental regulation by the California Coastal Commission of Granite Rock Co. mining in Los Padres National Forest at Pico Blanco.
They said such regulation was important because the mining is located "in the heart of the scenic, nationally renowned Big Sur coast, one of the most sensitive and valued portions of California's coastline."
California's appeal to the nation's highest court said other states imposing similar permit regulation of mining on federal lands within their boundaries include Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
O'Connor's opinion noted that the California Coastal Commission has said it intends to use its power to impose reasonable environmental regulations, not to impose land-use planning limits.
"Federal land-use statutes and regulations, while arguably expressing an intent to preempt state land-use planning, distinguish environmental regulation from land-use planning," she said.
In a second environmental case today, the Supreme Court ordered a resumption of Alaskan offshore oil exploration that was halted temporarily in a dispute over fishing and hunting rights of native Alaskans.
The justices, voting unanimously, lifted an injunction on oil exploration imposed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in October, 1985.
The ruling is a victory for the Reagan Administration.