Watt v. Alaska
451 U.S. 259 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

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

Watt v. Alaska

No. 79-1890

Argued January 13, 1981

Decided April 21, 1981*

451 U.S. 259


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Department's Solicitor then made a determination, in which the Comptroller General concurred, that the amended § 401(a) superseded § 35 of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, with the result that the formula under § 401(c) was to be applied to oil and gas lease revenues from wildlife refuges.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 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 451 U. S. 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. 451 U. S. 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. 451 U. S. 273. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 451 U. S. 276.

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