Back to Publications

Conservation, the Environment and Federal Oil and Gas Operations: The Future Under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969

David E. Lindgren, Proceedings of 17th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1971)

On January 1, 1970, President Nixon approved the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.1 It has been said to be a landmark reform law2 and to have a revolutionary effect on projects affecting the environment.3 It also has been suggested that the National Environmental Policy Act could well become our Environmental Bill of Rights.4 Whether the Act will have the revolutionary effect that some commentators envision [114] will not be determinable for years and perhaps decades. There is no question, however, that during the short period since NEPA became law, it already has had considerable impact and is being applied to an increasing variety of situations. NEPA has been the basis for preliminary injunctions halting, at least temporarily, a number of developments, some large and some smaller in magnitude. Among these are the cross-Florida barge canal;5 an earthen dam across the Cossatot River in Arkansas;6 the Alaska North Slope road from the Yukon River to Prudhoe Bay;7 mineral exploration activities and access road construction in a national forest;8 a park in Texas;9 and clearing the Gila River channel in Arizona.10


In addition to serving as the basis for injunctions halting development, NEPA was authority for an injunction compelling continuation of an activity.11 Application of the Act has not been limited to specific situations in which a particu