Andrus v. Sierra Club

LOCATION: John G. Osborne Elementary School

DOCKET NO.: 78-625
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 442 US 347 (1979)
ARGUED: Apr 18, 1979
DECIDED: Jun 11, 1979

James Hillson Cohen -
James H. Cohen - for respondents
John M. Harmon - for petitioners

Facts of the case


Media for Andrus v. Sierra Club

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 18, 1979 in Andrus v. Sierra Club

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in 625, Andrus against the Sierra Club.

Mr. Harmon, I think you may proceed whenever you're ready.

John M. Harmon:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals, the District of Columbia.

The question presented is whether the National Environmental Policy Act requires executive agencies to prepare environmental impact statements for their annual budget estimates submitted to OMB for consideration in the preparation of the President's budget.

Section 102 (2) (c) of NEPA provides that all agencies shall include an environmental impact statement in every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.

Respondents brought this action in July 1974 against the Secretary of Interior and the director of OMB alleging that the members of their respective organizations were adversely affected in their use of the National Wildlife Refuge System by certain proposals by the Department of Interior and OMB for the operation and maintenance of the refuge system.

The respondents claimed that the annual budget request prepared by the Secretary of Interior and submitted to OMB were proposals for legislation and other major federal action within the meaning of the National Environmental Protection Act, and therefore required the preparation of environmental impact statements.

The respondents sought a declaratory judgment to this effect.

They also sought a declaration that NEPA requires OMB to prepare procedures and guidelines to identify budget submissions by other agencies which require the preparation of environmental impact statements.

The District Court granted the respondent's motion for summary judgment holding that every budget estimate of an agency whose activities significantly impact on the environment is a proposal for legislation and other major federal action.

Warren E. Burger:

I suppose Mr. Harmon that some of the actions of the 400 plus district judges in the United States and soon well over a hundred circuit judges to say nothing of other judges, might have an impact on the human environment.

Does that mean the judicial budget would have to have an impact statement?

John M. Harmon:

Mr. Chief Justice in the sense -- in the theory of this case that in fact the actions, a decision would necessitate action below that may be major federal action significantly affecting the environment on that theory.

Again, that would be the follow through.

However, the environmental impact statement requirements of NEPA do not apply to the judicial branch or to the President.

It's our contention that they apply to all agencies, executive agencies within the executive branch.

Warren E. Burger:

But the thrust of my question was partly about impact as a -- it's really pretty difficult to major isn't it, to define and to bound?

John M. Harmon:

Well, that is certainly our contention in the sense that the argument made by respondents throughout this case indeed adopted by the District Court was that the budget estimates submitted by an agency in fact were proposals for all the actions which would be financed by the appropriation.

And that in that sense that the decisions, the budget decision was a decision to take those major federal actions with the significant environmental impact, and that is the broad reading that the District Court in fact accepted in this case.

The District Court ordered, directed the Secretary of Interior, the Director of OMB to prepare and consider environmental statements for each annual budget request for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

In addition, the District Court held that NEPA requires OMB to prepare procedures to identify all budget estimates which require an environmental impact statement.

William H. Rehnquist:

Do you understand this holding to be for the presumed benefit of the agencies who are submitting their requests to OMB, or for OMB in submitting its recommendations to the President?

John M. Harmon:

It is our understanding of the holding, Your Honors that in fact it is for the benefit, the identification for the agencies which would be submitting their requests to OMB.

That is the point at which the respondents have sought an -- the filing of an environmental impact statement.

The court below did not discuss the submission of OMB to the President for the consideration in the budget.

William H. Rehnquist:

You get any sense that there is balance of taken a “new look” at their position from their brief in this Court?

John M. Harmon:

Your Honor, that is our contention, the contention we have made in our reply brief which we have filed for this Court.

In fact, we think that the application of an environmental impact statement requirement to a submission by OMB in its function, in its budget function and the parts of OMB which provide and are specifically established for the purpose of providing advice and information to the President and the preparation of the President's budget are in fact beyond the reach of NEPA.

And for that reason, that application would raise a new issue in this case.