Environment: Caught in the Courts

Behind closed doors the members of the House Public Works Committee were furious. "Pestiferous little lawsuits," said Congressman James Wright of Texas. The judges are "a bunch of ignoramuses," said Alabama's Robert Jones. "Ridiculous and silly," said Roger Zion of Indiana.

What incensed the committeemen was a relatively obscure section of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). It requires every federal agency to publish detailed statements on the "environmental impact" of every bridge or canal or other project under its jurisdiction—plus "reasonable" alternatives to those projects.

Such planning inevitably takes time, which...

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