United States of America
Environmental Impact Assessments
This case was before the same Court in October 1975 (included in this database). At that time the Court found that the defendants, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, had failed to comply with the procedural and substantive requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), in their preparation of an environmental impact assessment relating to their construction of the “Darien Gap Highway” trough Panama and Columbia. As a result, the Court enjoined further work on the project until such time as compliance with NEPA had been affected. The Defendants had meanwhile produced a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the project, and asserted that they may proceed with the project. The Plaintiffs contended that the FEIS was defective in certain critical areas, and argued that the injunction should be extended. The Court held that the FEIS still failed to adequately examine the environmental impact of the proposed Highway. It started by emphasizing that the degree of detail required in an environmental impact statement depended on the nature of the project involved. In the present case, the proposition to build a highway through an area constituting an ecosystem unique to the world made it necessary to apply the requirements of NEPA thoroughly and strictly. The Court was of the view that the significant environmental problem related to the highway was the transmission of the “Foot-and-mouth” disease into North America. FEIS did not give any indication of the magnitude of expenditures required to control the disease in case any outbreaks should occur. The second deficiency in the FEIS was its inadequate treatment of the impact of the project upon the lives of the Cuna and Choco Indians living in the Darien Gap region. The FEIS was speculative and did not provide enough information for an informed balancing and decision-making in this regard and therefore did not satisfy the requirements of NEPA. Finally, the discussion of alternative routes to the chosen one was still inadequate as different routes were only analyzed with a view to engineering and cost, not addressed to the environmental impact of possible alternative routes. The Court ordered that the Preliminary Injunction be continued.