Kleppe v. Sierra Club
Annotate this Case
427 U.S. 390 (1976)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Kleppe v. Sierra Club, 427 U.S. 390 (1976)
Kleppe v. Sierra Club
Argued April 28, 1976
Decided June 28, 1976*
427 U.S. 390
Section 102(2)(C) of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) requires that all federal agencies include an environmental impact statement (EIS)
"in every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment."
Respondent environmental organizations, alleging a widespread interest in the rich coal reserves of the "Northern Great Plains region" (embracing parts of Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota) and a threat from coal-related operations to their members' enjoyment of the region's environment, brought suit against petitioner officials of the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies responsible for issuing coal leases, approving mining plans, and taking other actions to enable private companies and public utilities to develop coal reserves on federally owned or controlled land. Respondents claimed that petitioners could not allow further development of coal reserves in the region without preparing a comprehensive EIS under § 102(2)(C) on the entire region, and sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The District Court, on the basis of extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law, held that the complaint stated no claim for relief, and granted petitioners' motion for summary judgment. While accepting the District Court's findings of fact, the Court of Appeals held, on the basis of the soon-forthcoming interim report of the Northern Great Plains Resources Program (NGPRP) (a study of the potential environmental impact from resource development in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska) as well as other such studies of areas either inclusive of or included within the Northern Great Plains region, that petitioners "contemplated" a regional plan or program, and reversed and remanded with instructions to petitioners to inform the
District Court of their role in the further development of the region within 30 days after the NGPRP interim report issued, and that, if they decided to control that development, an EIS would be required. The Court of Appeals also enjoined the Department of the Interior's approval of mining plans in one section of the region for which an EIS already had been prepared.
1. The NEPA does not require petitioners to prepare an EIS on the entire Northern Great Plains region. Petitioners have proposed no legislation on the region, and there is no evidence in the record of any proposal for major federal action with respect to the region, but rather it appears that all proposals have been for actions of either local or national scope. Unless there is a proposal for a regional plan of development, it is not practical to prepare a regional EIS, since, absent such a plan, it is impossible to predict the level of coal-related activity that will occur in the region, and thus to analyze the environmental consequences and the resource commitments involved, and alternatives to, such activity. Pp. 427 U. S. 398-402.
2. The Court of Appeals erred in both its factual assumptions that the several studies undertaken by petitioners represented attempts to control development on a regional scale, and in its interpretation of the NEPA. There is nothing in the record to indicate that the NGPRP was aimed toward a regional plan or program, but even if the record justified such a finding, the Court of Appeals' legal conclusion cannot be squared with the NEPA, which, in § 102(2)(C), clearly states that an EIS is not required until an agency makes a recommendation or report on a proposal for major federal action. The Court of Appeals had no authority to depart from the statutory language and, by a balancing of court-devised factors, determine a point at which an EIS should be prepared. Pp. 427 U. S. 403-406.
3. Assuming that the Court of Appeals' theory about "contemplation" of regional action would permit a court to require pre-proposal preparation of an EIS, that court's injunction against approval of the mining plans in one part of the region nevertheless would have been error, since, on the court's own terms, there was, in fact, no harm, and thus no ground for the injunction. Pp. 427 U. S. 407-408.
4. Respondents' contention as to the relationships of all proposed coal-related projects in the Northern Great Plains region does not require that petitioners prepare one comprehensive EIS
covering such projects before proceeding to approve specific pending applications. Absent a showing that petitioners acted arbitrarily in refusing to prepare one comprehensive EIS on the entire region, it must be assumed that the responsible federal agencies have exercised appropriately their discretion to resolve the technical issue involved in determining the region, if any, with respect to which a comprehensive EIS covering several proposals is necessary. Pp. 427 U. S. 408-414.
169 U.S.App.D.C. 20, 514 F.2d 856, reversed and remanded.
POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 427 U. S. 415.