Oceana Statement on NEPA Decision
Press Release Date: September 20, 2002
On September 19, 2002, U.S District Court Judge Christina A. Snyder solidly rejected the Bush Administration’s argument that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) does not apply to activities that occur in ocean waters three to 200 miles offshore.
Tim Eichenberg, Oceana’s Senior Policy Advisor stated, “Oceana is very pleased that the Court ruled that the National Environmental Policy Act, the nation’s landmark environmental law, applies to federal activities in the oceans in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), 3-200 miles offshore. We hope that the Bush Administration will abandon its ill-advised – and now illegal – attempts to exempt projects from NEPA within the U.S. EEZ, an area larger than the size of the continental U.S. The Administration’s position would have constituted one of the most severe assaults on ocean protection ever. It would have opened up a Pandora’s Box of potentially harmful consequences from waste dumping, commercial fishing, oil and gas drilling, sonar testing and other ocean activities without adequate public scrutiny and careful environmental review. It would have exacerbated serious problems that currently plague our oceans, including severely depleted fish populations, increased pollution, and destruction of habitat.”
In the recent case, which challenged the U.S. Navy’s active sonar testing program due to its effect on whales, dolphins, and other ocean wildlife, the Administration argued that NEPA should not apply to activities in the U.S. exclusive economic zone. Judge Snyder held that environmental review is required. The Court ruled that “because the U.S. exercises substantial, if not exclusive, legislative control of the EEZ in the area of the environment stemming from its “sovereign rights” for the purpose of conserving and managing natural resources, the Court finds that NEPA applies to federal actions which may affect the environment in the EEZ.”
The National Environmental Policy Act is a landmark law signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970. NEPA requires the U.S. government to consider how its activities affect the environment. For projects that significantly affect the quality of the environment, federal agencies must complete detailed reports that analyze alternatives to proposed actions. These reports are made available to the public for review and comment. Often, plans are modified and improved based on the comments of citizens, independent scientists, local communities, and others.