In 1969 the United States Congress passed, and President Nixon signed, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to protect natural resources in the United States. Section 101 NEPA requires the federal Government to use “all practicable means and measures” to protect the environment, and to consider environmental costs and benefits in Government decisions.
Calvert Cliffs’ Coordinating Committee (Calvert Cliff) brought this action against the Atomic Energy Commission, alleging that its recently adopted procedural rules failed to satisfy the demands of NEPA that this Commission give consideration to environmental factors.
The Court decided that the Atomic Energy Commission’s procedural rules did not comply with Congressional policy enunciated in NEPA. The case was remanded for further rule-making consistent with the Court’s opinion.
NEPA made environmental protection a part of the mandate of every federal agency and department; federal agencies and departments had to “consider” environmental issues just as they considered other matters within their mandate.
The Court emphasized that Section 102 (2) (A) and (B) required a balancing process between environmental amenities and economic and technical considerations. Section 102 (2) (C) required responsible officials to prepare a detailed statement covering the environmental impact of mayor federal projects, and to develop appropriate alternatives. These procedural duties had to be performed to the fullest extent possible.
Section 102 mandated a particular sort of careful and informed decision-making process and created judicially enforceable duties. There was a requirement for agencies to “use all practicable means consistent with other essential considerations” set forth for substantive duties under Section 101. This would probably not allow reviewing courts to reverse a substantive decision unless it was shown that the actual balance of costs and benefits was arbitrary. However, if a decision was reached procedurally without individualized consideration and balancing of environmental factors, it was the Court’s responsibility to reverse.
In this case, the Court had to review the Atomic energy Commission’s rules governing its consideration of environmental values. The Commission’s rules allowed its NEPA responsibilities to “be carried out in toto outside the hearing process” and the environmental records to “accompany the application through the Commission’s review process” when no party to a proceeding raised any environmental issue.
The Court decided that these rules made a mockery of NEPA’s procedural requirements. Environmental factors had to be considered through the agency review processes, and not merely accompany other records through the federal bureaucracy. In uncontested hearings the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board needed not necessarily to go over the same ground covered in its staff’s statements, but it had to determine if the review y the staff had been adequate.