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NEPA Meets the Energy Crisis: D.C. Circuit Finds Statutory Violations But Refuses to Enjoin Ongoing Energy Projects

April 1978

Citation: 8 ELR 10062

Issue: 4

In two recent decisions, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in the conduct of federal agencies concerning the 1976 sale of outer continental shelf oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Alaska1 and the approval of construction of a joint railroad line for the transportation of coal out of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.2 The court, however, refused to grant injunctive relief pending full compliance with NEPA's requirements. In both cases, the environmental impact statements (EISs) were held inadequate for failure to discuss certain alternatives, yet injunctions vacating the sale and the approval order and prohibiting further exploratory drilling or railroad construction were denied as inappropriate under the circumstances.

Some environmental advocates see in these rulings the spector of a disturbing trend away from past judicial willingness to enjoin projects until full compliance with the statutory requirements has been achieved, a judicial stance that has molded NEPA into an effective tool for the protection of environmental values. The D.C. Circuit however, saw itself as simply applying traditional equitable analysis rather than breaking new legal ground on the question of injunctive relief in NEPA litigation.

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