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The Application of NEPA to Agency Actions Affecting Human Health

June 1983

Citation: 13 ELR 10179

Issue: 6

Author: James B. Dougherty

Editors' Summary: An important but rarely litigated issue under NEPA concerns the consideration that agencies must give to the human health consequences of federal projects. Although human health effects have understandably been characterized as the "most important issue to be covered in an EIS," on many occasions such effects have been neglected out of concern for the more traditional subjects of environmental analyses. In this Article, Mr. Dougherty shows that the legislative history and case law assign the highest priority to health issues, and thus do not permit the treatment of such effects under NEPA to be overshadowed by the treatment of the air or water quality implications of federal decisions. In addition, he reviews the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Metropolitan Edison Co. v. People Against Nuclear Energy, which concerned the adequacy of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's consideration of the human health effects stemming from the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. In the view of the author, the Court's opinion cannot be seriously faulted with respect to the result, although the opinion itself leaves a number of loose ends that may do little to clarify the law in an already turbid area.

J.D., Georgetown University Law Center, 1977; B.S., Syracuse University, 1974. Mr. Dougherty, formerly Editor of the Environmental Law Reporter, is now in private practice in Washington, D.C., specializing in nuclear licensing and other environmental litigation.

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