National Parks and Conservation Assn. v. Babbitt
241 F.3d 722 (9th Cir. 2001)
The National Park Service
(NPS) had limited the number of cruise ships that were allowed to enter
Glacier Bay National Park. The cruise ship companies petitioned NPS to
increase the number allowed.
NPS agreed, and wrote an
Environmental Assessment (EA), that resulted in a Finding of No
Significant Impact (FONSI). Environmental groups (led by NP&CA) sued
for an injunction.
NP&CA argued that an EA
was insufficient, and that NPS should be required to prepare an
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that an EIS be prepared whenever
there is a "major Federal action significantly
affecting the quality of the human environment."
NPS argued that the proposed
action wasn't significant, and
therefore no EIS was required.
The Trial Court found for NPS.
Basically, the Trial Court
deferred to agency judgment and found that NPS was acting within their
discretion when deciding whether or not an EIS was required.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The Appellate Court looked
to NEPA regulations (40
C.F.R. §§ 1500-1508), and found that the
term significantly should be considered in light of two
factors, context and intensity.
The Court found that Glacier
Bay was a "place of unrivaled scenic and geological values
associated with natural landscapes and wildlife species of inestimable
value to the citizens." In addition, the Court noted that the area
was a World Heritage Site.
These unique characteristics
established the context.
The Court looked to a list
of ten intensity criteria (40
C.F.R. § 1508.27), and found that several were present:
The Court noted that the EA
discussed the high level of uncertainty with regards to the
environmental effects, and one of the intensity criteria is "the degree to which the
possible effects on the human environment are highly uncertain or
involve unique or unknown risks."
The Court noted that there
was a large volume of negative comments and "an outpouring of public
protest", and one of the intensity criteria is "the degree to which the effects on the
quality of the human environment are likely to be highly
Based on all of that, the
Court found that there was context
and intensity sufficient to
meet the level of significant
in NEPA. Therefore an EIS was required.