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).
      • The National 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. NP&CA appealed.
    • 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 controversial."
    • 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.