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SIERRA CLUB v. MORTON

June 6, 1975

SIERRA CLUB et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ROGERS C. B. MORTON et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PRATT

 This matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiffs claim that annual budget proposals for financing the National Wildlife Refuge System involve a "recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment . . ." under Section 102(C) of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. § 4332(C), and that the defendants are therefore required to issue a detailed statement on the environmental impact of such annual budget proposals. Defendants seek dismissal of the action on several grounds. The matter has been thoroughly briefed by both sides.

 All the cases that have considered this precise issue, as well as the Council on Environmental Quality's regulations, hold that appropriation requests are "proposals for legislation" within the meaning of NEPA.

 In Environmental Defense Fund v. T.V.A., 468 F.2d 1164, 1181 (6th Cir. 1972), the Court stated that the phrase "proposals for legislation" as used in NEPA embraces annual appropriations requests: "The same results obtain if we construe the phrase 'proposals for legislation' in section 102(2)(c) as did the District Court to encompass annual appropriation requests. Under 31 U.S.C. § 22, the head of each federal agency must prepare each year a request for regular, supplemental, or deficiency appropriations to be submitted to Congress by the President under 31 U.S.C. § 11. Unquestionably, to construe these budgetary requests as proposals for legislation within the meaning of NEPA would facilitate Congress' expressed purpose of constant revision and reevaluation of ongoing projects." See also, Scientists' Inst. for Pub. Info. Inc. v. Atomic Energy Com'n, 481 F.2d 1079, 156 U.S. App. D.C. 395 (D.D.C. 1973); Environmental Defense Fund v. Tennessee Valley Auth., 339 F. Supp. 806 (E.D. Tenn. 1972); Sierra Club v. Froehlke, 359 F. Supp. 1289 (S.D. Texas 1973).

 Further, the Council on Environmental Quality (C.E.Q.), the agency established by NEPA to serve as a research and advisory body to the President, has published guidelines that track the statute and support plaintiffs' position. The Council's regulations provide for the preparation of an impact statement whenever an action is determined to be a major action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. 38 Fed. Reg. 20550 (1973), 40 C.F.R. 1500 et seq. "Actions" are interpreted to include "recommendations or favorable reports relating to legislation including requests for appropriations." (emphasis added). 40 C.F.R. 1500.5. The C.E.Q. Guidelines are entitled to great weight, and constitute a persuasive interpretation of NEPA. Environmental Defense Fund v. Tennessee Valley Auth., 468 F.2d 1164 (6th Cir. 1972). Moreover, the Department of Interior's regulations follow the C.E.Q. Guidelines by providing that impact statements should be prepared in connection with appropriation proposals. 36 Fed. Reg. 19342. Section 516.2.5.A provides:

 
"A. Types of federal actions to be considered include, but are not limited to:
 
(1) Recommendations or favorable reports to the Congress relating to legislation, including appropriations."

 The Court therefore concludes that annual proposals for financing the National Wildlife Refuge System are proposals for legislation within NEPA.

 The Court is also of the opinion that annual proposals for financing the Refuge System are major Federal actions which clearly have a significant effect on the environment. The statutory phrase "actions significantly affecting the quality of the environment" has been held to be "intentionally broad, 'reflecting the Act's attempt to promote an across-the-board adjustment in federal agency decision making so as to make the quality of the environment a concern of every federal agency.'" Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. Morton, 388 F. Supp. 829 (D.D.C. 1974, J. Flannery). Taking into account the nature and size of the Refuge System (350 refuges containing about 30 million acres), and the amount of the Refuge System's budget (about $200 million annually), it is evident that the scope of such budget project is far broader in terms of environmental impact than that of other proposed federal actions discussed in impact statements, such as a single canal, Environmental Defense Fund v. Corps of Engineers, 324 F. Supp. 878, 2 ERC 1173 (D.D.C. 1971), or dam, Environmental Defense Fund v. Corps of Eng. of U.S. Army, 325 F. Supp. 749 (E.D. Ark. 1971).

 It goes without saying that budget decisions have a direct bearing on how the Refuge System will be staffed, managed and maintained. We think it equally clear that when the important interrelationship between the Refuge System and the budget process is considered, the unmistakable conclusion is that both the environmental impact of budget decisions is significant and that the federal action involved is major.

 Defendants would counter the thrust of the clear language of the statute and the cited decisions with a variety of contentions. We now deal with certain of them.

 Defendants argue that it would be impractical, if not impossible, and administratively burdensome to prepare impact statements at the budget proposal stage. Defendants assert that final budget decisions are made less than one month before the President submits his budget recommendations in December prior to the commencement of the new fiscal year in July and that most budget decisions are not undertaken until September. Thus, defendants contend, the budget of the Department of the Interior is developed in a very short time frame, i.e., about four months.

 Several courts, in considering and rejecting administrative difficulty as a defense under NEPA, have emphasized that NEPA requires compliance to the fullest extent possible. In Calvert Cliffs' Coord. Com. v. U.S. A.E. Com'n., 146 U.S. App. D.C. 33, 449 F.2d 1109 (D.D.C. 1971), the defendants argued that compliance with the Act would place an enormous burden on the agency. The Court noted that ". . . the Section 102 duties are not inherently flexible. They must be complied with to the fullest extent, unless there is a conflict of statutory authority. Considerations of administrative difficulty, delay or economic cost will not suffice to strip the section of its fundamental importance." (p. 1115) See also Environmental Defense Fund v. T.V.A., 468 F.2d 1164 (6th Cir. 1972).

 Nor does the Court believe that compliance with NEPA is impossible. Defendants would convey the mistaken impression that appropriation proposals are emergency measures taken in response to some unforeseen event. Yet, defendants know that they are required to submit an annual appropriation proposal to Congress. Defendants, in fact, concede that the budget process begins about twenty months before the beginning of the fiscal year and some fifteen months before the budget proposal is submitted to Congress. There is thus no reason to delay preparation of the impact statement until September or December of each year when final budget decisions are made. If no final, definite budget is in ...


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