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No GWEN Alliance of Lane County v. Aldridge

ELR Citation: 18 ELR 20602
Nos. No. 86-4082, 841 F.2d 946/27 ERC 1487/(9th Cir., 03/09/1988)

The court holds that the Air Force is not required to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) on the environmental impacts of nuclear war in connection with the installation of radio towers that are part of the Ground Wave Emergency Network (GWEN), a communications grid designed to function despite interference caused by nuclear detonations. The Air Force had prepared a series of environmental assessments (EAs) concluding that no EIS was necessary. The court first holds that plaintiffs have standing, because they have made specific allegations of harm to their members who live in or use the areas affected by the radio towers. The court also holds that the lawsuit does not present a nonjusticiable political question, since it does not challenge the merits of national defense policy generally or the decision to deploy the GWEN. Rather, it challenges the Air Force's decisionmaking process, and there is no national defense exception to the National Environmental Policy Act.

The court next holds that there is not a sufficient nexus between GWEN installation and the environmental impact of nuclear war to require a discussion of these impacts in GWEN's environmental documents. Although an EIS is required when an agency action may have significant effects on the human environment, mere speculation is too attenuated to require discussion of remote environmental impacts. In this case, the plaintiffs admit that their contention that GWEN would increase the probability of nuclear war is merely speculation.

Finally, the court holds that the EAs adequately discussed non-nuclear effects of GWEN. Although the possibility of radio tower construction in Lane County, Oregon, violating local zoning law is not moot, the Air Force did evaluate land use and zoning and there are no specific facts showing this to be a genuine issue for trial. There has also been no showing that there is public controversy over GWEN's non-nuclear environmental effects, and although the nuclear effects are controversial, uncertain, and unique, they are recognized as catastrophic and detailing them would serve no useful purpose.

Counsel for Plaintiffs-Appellants
Ralph A. Bradley
Bradley & Gordon
1397 Willamette St., Eugene OR 97401
(503) 343-8247

Counsel for Defendants-Appellees
J. Carol Williams
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2757

Before Wallace and Fletcher, JJ.