South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Environmental Impact Statement Not Required for Change in Airport Operations
Description Appeals court rejected a petition for the review of a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration that it did not have to perform an Environmental Impact Statement prior to changing the structure of flight plans at the Phoenix airport. The agency properly determined that the change was not significant, so no challenge to its decision was allowed.
Topic Environmental Law
Key Words Environmental Impact Statement; Requirement; Challenges
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts The growth of Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix required the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to improve the management and safety of flights arriving from and departing to the north of the airport. As part of the review of the new flight plan, the FAA was required to consider the environment effects of changes. It determined that there was no significant environmental impact so a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would not be required. Some cities and residents affected by the change at the airport contended that the FAA should be required to prepare an EIA because the agency failed to give adequate consideration to certain issues. They petitioned the court of appeals for review.
Decision

Petition denied. EIS are required only when FAA actions “significantly affect the quality of the human environment.” The “FAA properly employed a well-established methodology. Petitioners raise only nominal challenges to the agency’s methodology and findings.” The fact that the change in flight patterns may be controversial does not mean there is a “controversy” within the meaning of EIS regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act that would allow a court review of the agency action.

Citation Town of Cave Creek, Arizona v. Federal Aviation Admin., 325 F.3d 320 (D.C. Cir., 2003)

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