Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizens Council
490 U.S. 332 (1989)

  • MRI wanted to build a ski resort on a mountain inside the Okanogan National Forest in Washington.
  • The US Forest Service liked the idea, and wrote an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to determine the environmental impact of the resort.
    • EISs are required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
  • The 150 page EIS was released, and found that there was no significant impact. The Forest Service gave MRI a permit to build the ski resort.
    • The EIS said that there might be an adverse impact on deer, but that the impact could be mitigated. It did not provide details about what specific mitigations actions were to be taken.
  • Some environmental groups (led by MVCC) sued for an injunction.
    • MVCC argued that the EIS was insufficient because it did not consider all of the impacts, and did not have a plan to mitigate the impact of the resort.
  • The Trial Court found for the Forest Service. MVCC appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. The Forest Service appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that NEPA imposes a substantive duty on agencies to take action to mitigate the adverse effects of major federal actions, which entails the further duty to include in every EIS a detailed explanation of specific actions that will be employed to mitigate the adverse impact.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and allowed the Forest Service to issue the permit.
    • The US Supreme Court found that NEPA does not require Agencies to mitigate adverse environmental effects or to include a fully developed mitigation plan in each EIS.
    • The Court found that all NEPA required was that the Agency take a 'hard look' at the environmental impact. It was up to each Agency to decide what that meant.
      • The Court agreed that the inclusion of a mitigation plan would be an important ingredient in an EIS, it wasn't required.
  • How specific do you have to be in setting forth mitigation actions when you find a possible adverse impact?
    • Based on the decision in this case, you can simply state that there may need to be regulations to mitigate the situation, you do not have to get into the details.
    • Even if you go into details, you don't have to consider every possible alternative. You only have to come up with a reasonable number of alternatives, and it is up to the authors of the EIS to determine how many alternatives should be included.