Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy


Julia Michel


Often called the “Magna Carta” of environmental laws, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has made informed decision-making about the environment a pre-requisite for every major federal permit approval. By requiring federal agencies to systematically consider and disclose the environmental and health consequences of a course of action, NEPA also made federal decision-making public—”we know best” no longer suffices to allow agencies to make a decision without considering its environmental consequences. Yet NEPA’s mandate has been thwarted when it comes to natural gas exports. Without meaningful review of the consequences, federal agencies have already approved proposals to export an amount roughly equivalent to one-fifth of all domestic natural gas demand. In so doing, they have failed to consider basic consequences such as rising domestic prices, production, and pollution. This Note argues that recent decisions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit have allowed federal agencies to hide the impacts of natural gas exports in an improperly segmented review process. Because the public and local decision-makers deserve—and NEPA requires—an honest assessment of the impacts associated with natural gas exports, this Note urges judges and advocates to consider segmentation as a critical legal principle for understanding why the D.C. Circuit’s recent decisions have created a void in environmental review and should be reconsidered.

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