Marsh v. Oregon Natural Resources Council
490 U.S. 360 (1989)

  • The US Army Corps of Engineers was building three dams on a river in Oregon.
  • Pursuant to the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), the Corps prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
  • After the final EIS had been completed, new studied were published indicating that the projected would have a more adverse impact than previously thought.
    • The Corps decided not to prepare a supplemental EIS to consider this new information.
      • NEPA does not explicitly address what to do in this situation.
      • The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) had interpreted NEPA to require a supplemental EIS when there is "significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts."
      • The Corps own regulations require a supplemental EIS when there is "new significant impact information, criteria, or circumstances relevant to environmental considerations impacting on the recommended plan or proposed action."
  • Marsh sued to stop the project on the grounds that the EIS was not adequate.
    • Marsh argued that since new information had come to light, the original EIS was flawed and needed to be updated.
  • The Trial Court found for the Corps.  Marsh appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and issued an injunction.  The Corps appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that the Corps had failed to evaluate the new information with sufficient care and therefore had failed to meet the requirements of NEPA.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court and allowed the project to go forward without the need for a supplemental EIS.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the decision to prepare a supplemental EIS is similar to the decision to prepare an EIS in the first place.
      • The Court found that judicial review of agency decisions is limited to whether they were 'arbitrary or capricious'.
      • Basically, the Court was saying that whether the new information was 'significant' was a scientific fact that was beyond the scope of a court to review.  Deference should be given to the scientists in the agency to decide what constitutes a significant change.