NEPA gets short shrift in the courts

  For more than a year, environmentalists have been warning that the Bush administration is attempting an unprecedented rollback of the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). A recent study of NEPA court cases by the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife indicates that such warnings have merit.

Supporters of NEPA describe it as the Magna Carta of environmental legislation. It requires federal agencies to evaluate major projects proposed for public lands and waters, through environmental impact statements and less-comprehensive environmental assessments.

Defenders of Wildlife examined 172 court cases that were argued during 2001 and 2002 by Bush officials. The group found that 54 percent of the time, the administration presented “NEPA-hostile” arguments to the court. According to the study, administration lawyers have tried to sidestep the law by using unfounded legal arguments, by trying to assert that no NEPA review is necessary because likely impacts are not significant, and by presenting deceptive or inaccurate information to the courts.

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