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U.S. Supreme Court

ETSI Pipeline Project v. Missouri, 484 U.S. 495 (1988)

ETSI Pipeline Project v. Missouri

No. 86-939

Argued November 3, 1987

Decided February 23, 1988*

484 U.S. 495


In 1982, petitioner ETSI Pipeline Project entered into a 40-year contract with petitioner Secretary of the Interior to withdraw up to a certain amount of water per year from Lake Oahe, a reservoir located on the Missouri River in South Dakota, for use in an interstate coal slurry pipeline. Respondents Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska filed suit in Federal District Court to enjoin performance of the contract, alleging that, under the Flood Control Act of 1944 (Act), the Interior Secretary lacked authority to execute a contract to provide water from the reservoir for industrial uses without obtaining the approval of the Secretary of the Army. Pursuant to the Act, the Oahe Reservoir was built by the Corps of Engineers, now part of the Department of the Army (successor of the Department of War), which has always maintained and operated the reservoir. The Act was directed to both flood control and navigation matters that concerned the War Department and reclamation and irrigation problems that concerned the Interior Department, thus also implicating the tensions between the Upper Missouri River Basin States' interests in irrigation and reclamation and the interests of the Lower Basin States (including respondents) in flood control. The District Court ruled for respondents, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The Secretary of the Interior exceeded the authority Congress delegated to him by the Act. Pp. 484 U. S. 505-517.

(a) In light of the Act's provisions specifying the powers of the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Interior -- particularly the former's authority as to the use and disposal of water at any reservoir under the Army Department's control -- as well as the Act's general background, the Interior Secretary does not possess the authority to execute a contract to provide water from an Army reservoir for industrial use without obtaining the Army Secretary's approval. Under the Act's language, if the Interior Secretary wishes to remove water from an Army reservoir for any purpose, the approval of the Army Secretary must be secured. As long as ample water remains in the Oahe Reservoir for the purposes embodied in the Act, and absent any allocation for chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 484 U. S. 496

irrigation pursuant to the Act's terms -- the record supporting the District Court's findings that there was no such allocation or use of the reservoir's water for irrigation -- the Army Secretary has exclusive authority to contract to remove water for industrial use. Pp. 484 U. S. 505-509.

(b) There is no merit to petitioners' contention that the Act's provisions approving general comprehensive plans for projects to be operated by both the Interior and Army Departments represent congressional approval of any functional division of authority between those Departments and allows the Interior Secretary unilaterally to remove water from Army reservoirs for irrigation purposes and for other related uses. Such contention is wide of the mark in view of the Act's specific jurisdictional provisions discussed above as to the use of Army reservoirs, and is grounded on a misuse of the legislative history. There is no indication that control over individual reservoirs was to be divided among various Departments of the Federal Government. Nor is petitioners' argument supported by a provision of the Act stating that reclamation and power developments to be undertaken by the Interior Secretary shall be governed by federal reclamation laws, which authorize him to reallocate water under his control for industrial use. Such provision of the Act applies only to projects that the Interior Department itself may undertake under the Act. But as the District Court found, the reservoir project engineered by the Army at Oahe is neither a power development nor a reclamation development undertaken by the Interior Secretary. Moreover, there is no merit to petitioners' contention that, although the Interior Department must consult with the Army Department before withdrawing water for industrial use from the Oahe Reservoir, the Interior Department can proceed without the Army Department's approval as long as the latter does not object. Pp. 484 U. S. 509-515.

(c) It is unnecessary to consider petitioners' contention that deference to the Interior Secretary's interpretation of the Act is appropriate here, and their related arguments about the history of relations between the Army and Interior Departments under the Act, for even if the Interior Department's interpretation would be entitled to any deference in these circumstances, the Executive Branch is not permitted to administer the Act in a manner that is inconsistent with the administrative structure that Congress enacted into law. The Act speaks directly to the dispute, and congressional intent as expressed in the Act indicates clearly that the Interior Secretary may not enter into a contract to withdraw water from an Army reservoir for industrial use without the approval of the Army Department. Pp. 484 U. S. 515-517.

787 F.2d 270, affirmed. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 484 U. S. 497

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except KENNEDY, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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