The First Environmental Impact Statement

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By Bob Kuzelka

As might be imagined, the implementation requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act 1969 as described in this issue of Prairie Fire sent a variety of shock waves through the federal bureaucracy. But some agencies without the “benefit” of the many subsequent court interpretations of the act proceeded to fulfill these requirements straightforward as they saw them.

The following is a recollection of such an action from those days by Ferd E. Anderson Jr. (Colonel U.S. Army, Retired). He describes what in 1970 may have been the first Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) ever written, completed and approved in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and perhaps the entire federal bureaucracy. Note the environmental area of this EIS deals with pollution potential in large bodies of water. Compare this EIS recollection with a sidebar related to an EIS concerned with a similar environmental area in the next issue of Prairie Fire. We thank Ferd for writing this article.

The First EIS

When I returned to the U.S. from Vietnam in the summer of 1966, I was assigned to the Army Chief of Engineers Office in Washington, D.C., as an assistant director of civil works. My role was to provide staff coordination on projects in the areas covered by the North Central Division (office in Chicago, Ill.), Ohio River Division (office in Cincinnati, Ohio) and the Upper Mississippi River Division (office in Rock Island, Ill.). I held the position until the summer of 1970.

Congress had directed the Army Chief of Engineers to study the environmental problems created by the Corps’ dredging of the various 100 ports or harbors in the Great Lakes. Often, but not always, the dredge spoil was hauled out and dumped into deep water in the lakes. Because some of the ports served highly industrialized areas, the spoil from those ports was often contaminated in various ways. Environmentalists were not pleased. News­paper headlines would shout that Lake Erie was dead and blame the Corps for its demise. (I realized early in my tour that I needed to maintain close contact with the Isaac Walton League, the Sierra Club and many other like organizations.)

The study was assigned to the North Central Division with its district offices in Chicago, Detroit and Buffalo. It was completed and forwarded to the Chief of Engineer’s office in late 1969.

On Jan. 1, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Federal (National) Environmental Policy Act.

It was my job to review the report with our staff of engineers, environmentalists and lawyers and recommend that the Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Clarke, forward the report to the Secretary of the Army, recommending that the secretary then forward the report to Congress in compliance with their requirements. Lt. Gen. Clarke did forward the report.

A few days later, around the 10th of January, 1970, a staff member from the Secretary of the Army’s office called me and asked me where the Environmental Impact Statement was for the report. I asked what he was talking about and he told me to read the (National) Environmental Policy Act, which I did as soon as I could find a copy of the act.

The EIS was required by the act to cover five general topics or questions. It appeared to me that it was a fairly straightforward requirement, so I proceeded to write what I considered to be a good answer to the five questions. I then did staff coordination for a couple of days and sent the EIS to the Secretary of the Army, who accepted it and sent it with the rest of the report to the Congress, who also accepted the report with the EIS.

The whole EIS process took about a week, and it was the first written. Because the basic premise of the Great Lakes study was to evaluate the environmental matters related to the maintenance of the Great Lakes’ ports (or harbors), the study provided me with the data necessary for an EIS.

Related Story:

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, Part One

 

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