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Kleppe v. Sierra Club

Citation: 6 ELR 20532
No. No. 75-552, 427 U.S. 390/8 ERC 2169/(U.S., 06/28/1976) Rev'd

The Supreme Court reverses the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, 514 F.2d 856, 5 ELR 20463, and holds that NEPA does not require preparation of an environmental impact statement for coal leasing in the Northern Great Plains region absent an agency proposal for regional coal development. There has been no regional proposal; all proposals have been of local or national scope. Nor can a regional impact statement be prepared for practical reasons, since there would be no factual predicate for analysis. The court of appeals erred in holding that agency contemplation of controlling coal development requires an impact statement. The agencies' procedural duty to prepare impact statements for proposals is precise; the court of appeals mistakenly departed from the statutory language by requiring a four-part balancing test for impact statement preparation. In addition, the court of appeals improperly enjoined further coal leasing pending preparation of an impact statement since the equities lay on the side of the lessees and their consumers. Although comprehensive impact statements are often necessary for related proposals, the determination of the relevant geographical region covered by the statement falls within the informed discretion of the responsible agency.

A partial concurrence and dissent argues that the court of appeals' four-part balancing test would implement NEPA's goals by allowing court intervention prior to solidification of an agency's environmental position, rather than fostering wasted effort through belated injunctive relief. The lower court's test merely restricts judicial review to a small number of proper instances where the agency is violating NEPA through nonpreparation of an impact statement. It is no answer to say that such a test invites litigation, if that litigation is brought to redress agency non-compliance with NEPA's mandates. Furthermore, NEPA's legislative history belies the majority's assertion that the Act's requirements are "precise."

Counsel are listed at 5 ELR 20463.

Powell, J. for himself, Burger, C.J., Stewart, White, Blackmun, Rehnquist & Stevens, JJ.; Marshall & Brennan, JJ., concur in part and dissent in part with opinion.