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Friends of the Fiery Gizzard v. Farmers Home Admin.

ELR Citation: 25 ELR 21536
Nos. No. 94-6327, 61 F.3d 501/41 ERC 1569/(6th Cir., 08/07/1995) Aff'd

The court holds that the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) need not prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the construction of a drinking water reservoir whose only significant effect on the human environment will be beneficial. The FmHA conducted an environmental assessment (EA) of the project and, based on its finding that the project would have no significant adverse impacts, but rather would positively impact area residents' living environment by providing them with a dependable, sanitary water supply, decided not to prepare an EIS. The court first holds that the implementing regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) make clear that full-scale EISs need not be prepared for every major federal action that might conceivably have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment. The regulations require an agency, in deciding whether to prepare an EIS, to look at the "intensity" of the environmental effects. They define "intensity" to mean "the severity of impact," indicating adverse impacts, not beneficial impacts. The court holds that an EIS is not required when an agency reasonably concludes, on the basis of an EA, that a project will have no significant adverse environmental impacts. The court sees no contradiction between the FmHA's finding that the project will not significantly affect the quality of the human environment and its finding that the project will have a positive impact on area residents' living environment. The court notes that NEPA's central purpose of stimulating the health and welfare of man will not be furthered by the delays and costs associated with the preparation of an EIS that would not even arguably be required were it not for the project's positive impact on health and welfare. The court next holds that the FmHA's determinations that the reservoir dam will not adversely affect the flow patterns and temperature of the creek downstream, and that its distance from a local natural area precludes it from having a discernable impact on the area are not arbitrary or capricious within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The court also holds that the FmHA's finding that there will be no significant adverse impacts passes muster under the APA. The court next holds that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying an injunction to halt the project. The environmental groups challenging the project are not likely to prevail on the merits of their claims that the FmHA prejudged the case, used the wrong standard in determining whether there were significant impacts, and failed adequately to address and document a number of reasonably foreseeable impacts.

[The district court opinion is published at 25 ELR 20951.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Wayne E. Ramage
Farris, Warfield & Kanaday
Third National Financial Ctr., 19th Fl., Nashville, TN 37219
(615) 244-5200

Counsel for Defendants
Jessalyn Hershinger
Bass, Berry & Sims
2700 First American Ctr., Nashville TN 37238
(615) 742-6200

Before: JONES, NELSON, AND RONEY,* Circuit Judges.