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Volume 6, Issue 4 — April 1976


Much to Do About Concorde

The federal government's commitment to environmental protection has weakened considerably since 1970-1971. Perhaps nothing better symbolizes this shift than Secretary of Transportation William Coleman's recent decision to permit the Concorde supersonic transport (SST) to land in the United States.1 This authorization contrasts with Congress' 1971 vote to cancel federal funding of a United States SST.

In both energy and environmental terms, the Concorde SST exemplifies the costs which often accompany technological achievements. With technology, man can accomplish feats once thought beyond his powers, but the price to be paid is often severe. Developments in aviation technology have made it possible to fly faster than the speed of sound, but only at the expense of severe supersonic air drag. As a result, to achieve a modicum of fuel efficiency, as SST must be designed with a slim fuselage, slender engines and a short, thin, low-lift wing. Compared with less sleek subsonic jets, these design constraints mean reduced passenger capacity and noisy operation: the low-lift SST wing demands extra engine thrust on landing and takeoff, and the slim engine design and high engine exhaust velocity needed for efficient supersonic operation preclude use of noise-suppressing techniques now available for subsonic jet engines.2

Kleppe Conditionally Declares New River a Scenic River

On March 12, following an unprecedented request by the state of North Carolina, Interior Secretary Thomas S. Kleppe designated a 26.5-mile stretch of the New River in North Carolina as a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system. The decision, however, included the caveat that it could not take precedence over a Federal Power Commission (FPC) license previously granted to the Appalachian Power Company (Appalachian) to construct a large pumped-storage hydroelectric facility, called the Blue Ridge project, on the New River, should the license survive judicial review in a case pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Secretary Kleppe's designation came hard on the heels of a concerted media effort by American Electric Power Company, Appalachian's parent corporation, to convince the public of the worth of the Blue Ridge project.1 Coming roughly one week before the North Carolina primary, it reinforced prior speculation that the Administration timed the decision to advance President Ford's chances in the primary.2 The Secretary's astute move served both to placate North Carolina and conservationists who had strenuously lobbied to protect the New River, and to hold out to Appalachian the promise that its project could yet be revived.

Fallout From SCRAP II and the 1975 NEPA Amendments: Second Circuit Reverses Itself in Conservation Society

In the first significant judicial reaction1 to last year's amendment2 to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has repudiated its earlier "hard line" view3 that NEPA prohibits delegation of environmental impact statement preparation to state agencies. The court also responded to the Supreme Court's 1975 decision in the SCRAP case4 by reversing its prior holding that preparation of a NEPA impact statement on transportation systems within the entire Route 7 corridor in New England must procede federal funding of a reconstruction project for a 20-mile segment of the highway. This second ruling suggests that the federal courts may choose to read SCRAP II as giving federal agencies considerable leeway in narrowing the scope of the NEPA review associated with a particular project. It thus casts a shadow over the developing use of programmatic impact statements, one of the most promising developments in recent NEPA law.

The piecemeal reconstruction of Route 7 into a limited access expressway has spawned a number of lawsuits. In 1973, Second Circuit Judge James Oakes, sitting by designation as the Federal District Court in Vermont, granted a permanent injunction in Conservation Society of Southern Vermont v. Secretary of Transportation5 against further work on a 20-mile segment of the highway between Bennington and Manchester, Vermont.

California Issues Strong Coastal Plan

The California Legislature is currently debating one of the most important issues it has ever confronted: the proposed California Coastal Plan.1 The outcome of this legislative fight may determine not only the future of the 1,100-mile California coast, but also the national destiny of comprehehensive resource management and innovative developmental controls.

Within the last 30 years, California's population has trebled to 20 million persons, 85 percent of whom live less than 30 miles from the coast; the rate of growth within five miles of the coast is twice that in the rest of the state. This population surge, coupled with the dispersion of planning and zoning powers among 200 coastal jurisdictions, has resulted in an unrestrained, haphazard pattern of development that is a nightmare for those seeking to preserve the coast's environment. To remedy this situation the California Coastal Plan forcefully proposes the objectives of quality development coupled with preservation, enhancement, and restoration of natural and man-made coastal resources. In addition, the Plan would grant priority to public and coastal-dependent over private and non-coastal dependent uses, concentrate growth near already developed areas, and maximize access to the coast.