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Navajo Nation v. U.S. Forest Serv.

ELR Citation: 37 ELR 20062
Nos. Nos. 06-15371 et al., (9th Cir., 03/12/2007)

The court held that the U.S. Forest Service's approval of a ski resort expansion in the Coconino National Forest violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and National Environmental Policy Act. As a part of the expansion, the agency approved the proposed use of recycled sewage effluent to make artificial snow on a mountain sacred to Native American tribes. The court concluded that this proposed action would violate the tribes' religious freedom in violation of the RFRA. While the use of treated sewage effluent on the mountain would impose a substantial burden on the tribes' exercise of religion, the agency failed to demonstrate that its approval of the proposed action serves a compelling governmental interest by the least restrictive means. In addition, the Forest Service's final environmental impact statement was inadequate with respect to its discussion of the risks posed by possible human ingestion of artificial snow made from treated sewage effluent.