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NEPA and National Defense: Trident Base Allowed to Proceed Despite Inadequate Impact Statement

December 1976

Citation: ELR 10275

On October 13, 1976, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found the United States Navy's environmental impact statement for construction of the Trident nuclear submarine base in Bangor, Washington, deficient in two respects, but allowed construction to continue.1 Placing an interesting gloss on §§101(b)(1) and 102(2)(C)(iv) of NEPA, the court disapproved the Navy's failure to forecast Trident's environmental impacts beyond 1981, the projected completion date for the base. The court, in an opinion written by Judge Tamm, also examined the relationship between NEPA and national defense, holding that the Navy's strategic decisions relating to Trident were not exempt from NEPA's requirements. No injunction was issued, however, because the Navy's decision to proceed with the Trident base reflected a good-faith weighing of environmental factors and was not arbitrary. A second majority opinion written by Judge Leventhal and joined in by Judge Kaufman suggested that strong strategic considerations in favor of a project escalate the threshold of the NEPA violation required to warrant injunctive relief.

Plaintiffs in the case, local and national environmental groups and two persons residing in the Bangor area, had raised a number of questions concerning the adequacy of the impact statement, and alleged the Navy had failed to follow proper decisionmaking procedures regarding Trident. After a trial on the merits, the district court ruled against plaintiffs on all their allegations and dismissed the complaint.2

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