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Rules Without Reasons: The Diminishing Role of Statutory Policy and Equitable Discretion in the Law of NEPA Remedies

By Daniel Mach

Historically, the law governing injunctive relief for violations of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 has been informed both by interpretation of the statute’s environmental purpose and by policies associated with the administrative law framework through which NEPA is implemented. The resulting case law reflects tensions between general legal canons and the fact-bound, equitable nature of trial courts’ injunction orders. This Note argues that the Supreme Court’s recent decisions addressing NEPA remedies do not effectively resolve those tensions. Through a case study of Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, this Note argues that the Court’s development of rigid rules of equity for NEPA injunction decisions threatens to divorce those trial-level decisions from relevant legal, institutional, and factual considerations. For this reason, further efforts to circumscribe rules for NEPA injunctions by formalizing principles of equity ought to take into account that tradition’s most central tenet, that equity “eschews mechanical rules” and “depends on flexibility.” Specifically, an effective law of NEPA remedies will require a workable balance of statutory interpretation, administrative law policy, and deference to trial courts’ equitable discretion.

Cite as: Daniel Mach, Rules Without Reasons: The Diminishing Role of Statutory Policy and Equitable Discretion in the Law of NEPA Remedies, 35 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 205 (2011).

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