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When a federal agency prepares an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), it must consider all reasonable alternatives in depth. 40 C.F.R. § 1502.14. No decision is more important than delimiting what these reasonable alternatives are. That choice, and the ensuing analysis, forms the heart of the environmental impact statement. 40 C.F.R. § 1502.14. To make that decision, the first thing an agency must define is the project's purpose.
Plaintiffs, affected landowners, sought review after a permit to build a dam was issued to defendant U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers claiming that defendant breached the strictures of the National Environmental Policy Act (act), 42 U.S.C.S. § 4321 et seq., by failing to consider all reasonable alternatives in its final Environmental Impact Statement addressing the water needs of two areas.
Did the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fulfill its procedural obligations under federal environmental law?
The court reversed and remanded. It found that U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers defined the proposed project's purpose as supplying two users with water from a single source, namely, a new lake created by damming a river, and that when U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers prepared an environmental impact statement, it confined its analysis to single-source alternatives. The court found that by focusing on the single source idea, U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers never looked at an entire category of reasonable alternatives and thereby ruined its environmental impact statement. It reasoned that by failing to consider alternatives other than single source ones, U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers bypassed the act's core requirement which mandated that a federal agency could not ram through a project before first weighing the pros and cons of the alternatives.