The Supreme Court ruled 9 to 0 yesterday that federal agencies need not prepare environmental impact statements to accompany requests for appropriations.
The decision overturned a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals here that marked the first judicial intervention in the processes of the executive branch that culminate in the president's annual budget submission to Congress.
The statements, known as EISs, are required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 to be included in every recommendation or report "on proposals for legislation and other major federal actions" significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.
In 1974, three environmental groups alleged in a lawsuit that the operations, maintenance and staffing of the National Wildlife Refuge Systems would be substantially affected by proposed budget curtailments.
The result would be a significant adverse effect on the quality of the human environment, said the Sierra Club, the National Parks and Conservation Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Consequently, they argued, the curtailments should have been accompanied by an EIS prepared by both the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Interior Department and by the Office of Management and Budget of the White House.
A federal judge agreed with these arguments. Affirming less broadly, the appeals court held that the 1969 law required an EIS only when an appriation request accompanies "a 'proposal' for taking new action which significantly changes the status quo," or when "the request for budget approval and appropriations is one that ushers in a considered programmatic review."
Thus, the appellate court held, the 1969 law would not apply to "a routine request for budget approval and appropriations for continuance and management of an ongoing program."
In the opinion for the Supreme Court in reversing the lower tribunal, Justice William J. Brennan Jr. said its ruling has support neither in the language nor the legislative history of the 1969 law.