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Reagan Era Lessee Seeks Attorneys’ Fees for Defeating Feds

Jun 01, 2016 | by William Perry Pendley

DENVER, CO.  A Louisiana man issued a federal oil and gas lease in 1982, but denied the right to explore his property since approval of his application for permit to drill (APD) in 1985, today filed for attorneys’ fees and expenses after a federal district court ruled in favor of his company.  Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) represents Sidney Longwell of Baton Rouge; his company Solenex, LLC, which owns the Reagan-era lease, sued Secretary of the Interior Jewell and Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials in district court in Washington, D.C. in 2013.  On March 17, 2016, after nearly a year of district court hearings in which the officials and their attorneys refused to act in a timely manner, the United States cancelled the lease and voided the APD.  Meanwhile, in June of 2015, the judge called the government’s conduct, “Kafkaesque.”  In July of 2015, the district court ruled the delay illegal as a matter of law.  The Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) permits awards to prevailing parties when the federal government’s position is not “substantially justified.”

“We file to protect our rights to $156,152.66 in fees and $20,088.73 in expenses but stay the proceedings to focus on whether the government may cancel the lease and void the APD,” said William Perry Pendley of MSLF.

In June 1982, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued Mr. Longwell a 6,247 acre oil and gas lease on federal land in northwestern Montana.  In 1983, Mr. Longwell assigned the lease to America Petrofina Company of Texas, which later became Fina Oil and Chemical Company.  In October 1983, Fina submitted an application for permit to drill near Hall Creek, approximately 2 miles south of U.S. Highway 2 to evaluate the natural gas potential of that portion of the Overthrust Belt.

After extensive review pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), amidst appeals, and following a ruling by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLM), in consultation with the U.S. Forest Service, the BLM approved the APD in 1985, 1987, 1991, and finally in January 1993.

In June 1993, the Secretary of the Interior suspended activity on the lease purportedly to permit Congress to act.  In 1994 and 1995 the Secretary extended the suspension awaiting congressional action.  Then, in 1996, the Secretary continued the suspension, purportedly to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act.  In 1997, the Secretary extended that suspension and finally, in 1998, continued it indefinitely. 

In 1999, FINA assigned its rights under the approved APD and lease back to Mr. Longwell.  In July 2004, he assigned his rights to Solenex, which, in May 2013, asked that the suspension be lifted; the request was denied.

Mountain States Legal Foundation, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system.  Its offices are in suburban Denver, Colorado.

For more information:  Solenex, LLC v. Jewell


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