July 27, 2020

Undercutting Environmental Law’s Magna Carta

by Jim Murphy

Passed in 1969, the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, is considered the Magna Carta of environmental laws. On its face, NEPA only sensibly requires that for “major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment, a detailed statement” be prepared that, among other things, consider the environmental impact of the proposed action, any adverse environmental effects which cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented, and alternatives to the proposed action. 42 U.S.C § 4332. Other than this “hard look” at the environmental impacts of major federal actions, NEPA demands little. The agency need not choose the least environmentally damaging alternative, abandon, or change the project as a result of its “hard look.” Yet, the statute has been revolutionary in its vision and impact.

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