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Issue

Volume 3, Issue 9 — September 1973

Comment(s)

Halfway There: EPA's "Environmental Explanations" and the Duty to File Impact Statements

Starting January 1, 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency will issue "environmental explanations" written in laymen's terms for proposed new standards, regulations, and guidelines of national application.1 The new policy, a response to what EPA called the "growing demand by the judiciary and the public" for full disclosure of the reasons for governmental decisions, would apply to national standards of environmental quality and to emission, effluent, and performance standards. The public should know the environmental effects of major standard-setting actions, the Agency declared, and receive the information necessary for intelligent comment on proposed standards.

Except where a statutory deadline or a compelling need to abate pollution necessitates a delay in its preparation, an explanation will accompany proposed standards when they are first published in the Federal Register. The Agency will undertake to describe in detail the major environmental effects of the proposed action; non-environmental factors affecting the decision, such as legal, technical, social, and economic considerations; alternative possibilities open to the Agency; and the reasons for selecting a particular course of action. When a final standard, regulation, or guideline differs from the original proposal, a supplemental explanation will be published, indicating the reasons for the revisions.

The Gas Hog an Endangered Species? New Proposals Seek to Reduce Autos' Fuel Consumption

On August 23, 1973, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would request auto manufacturers to label 1974 model year cars to show customers the model's weight, probable mile-per-gallon rating, and estimated operating cost.1 The proposed program is to be voluntary, although EPA's Assistant Administrator, Robert Sansom, noted that the Federal Trade Commission may already possess the authority to make such disclosure mandatory.

Several European manufacturers whose products have received high ratings on EPA's gas mileage test immediately welcomed the proposal. Detroit's automakers were initially noncommittal, although a spokesman for Ford protested that variation in driving conditions and driving styles made accurate prediction of gas mileage difficult. Sansom's pointed warning that "if the consumer can't see a label on the car, that ought to tell him something" apparently hit home. On September 12, the Agency announced that General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, and eight foreign manufacturers, together accounting for some 90 percent of the new car market in the United States, had agreed to place labels on their cars. Many other companies are still considering the proposal. Only one, Peugeot, has formally rejected it.

Maine's Supreme Court Upholds the Constitutionality of the Site Location Act and the Coastal Conveyance Act

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court recently upheld the validity of two Maine laws, both of which promise to have a far-reaching impact upon state environmental legislation in the 1970s. The Site Location Act of 19701 establishes a strict land use control system by requiring state approval of the landsites of all major industrial, commercial, and residential developments. The constitutionality of this statute was affirmed by the state's highest court In the Matter of Spring Valley Development by Lakesites, Inc.2; the court rejected the plaintiffs' contention that the application of the Site Location Act would result in taking without compensation. Also enacted in 1970, the Coastal Conveyance Act,3 which imposes absolute and vicarious liability for oil spills upon oil terminal operators, survived a major constitutional challenge charging violations of the Admiralty, Commerce and Import-Export Clauses in a Maine supreme court decision in two related cases, Portland Pipe Line Corporationv. Environmental Improvement Commission and American Oil Company v. Environmental Improvement Commission.4

Both laws were prompted by a threatened invasion of oil-import operations and related refining industries anxious to exploit Maine's deepwater ports, unique along the Eastern seaboard. Before enactment of these two laws, Maine was vulnerable to all the ills accompanying an oil industrial boom. Before the Site Location Act was passed, Maine, like most other states, relied primarily upon municipalities to legislate land use regulations. Yet, in 1970, only one-third of Maine's townships were organized into municipal corporations, and of this fraction, only 15 percent were zoned. Consequently, 60 percent of the land area of the state was not subject to control by incorporated local governments. During that same year, a number of companies were considering the possibility of building major oil terminals and refineries in areas of the state where only a few local governments had passed any land use restrictions at all.5