The Gap Between Informational Goals and the Duty to Gather Information: Challenging Piecemealed Review under the Washington State Environmental Policy Act
33 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2009 Last revised: 13 Oct 2012
Date Written: 2001
The State of Washington adopted the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) in 1971 to acknowledge ‘the necessary harmony between humans and the environment in order to prevent and eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere, as well as to promote the welfare of humans and the understanding of our ecological systems.’ The lofty goals are implemented through an informational mandate, under which SEPA requires agencies to make informed environmental decisions in a process of open and public study of environmental impacts.
One challenge to SEPA’s informational approach is known as ‘piecemealing.’ Piecemealing involves the practice of dividing a proposal into small, component parts and separately studying the adverse impacts from each part. Of course, because the impacts of small pieces of a project often appear negligible, isolated environmental review of such parts rarely receives attention. The danger of piecemealed review is found in the resulting informational gaps: piecemealed review avoids analysis of both the project as a whole and of the cumulative impacts that result from the component parts.
Although state and federal courts have rejected piecemeal review, the courts have been inconsistent in their identification and treatment of piecemeal review, causing uncertainty in the role that SEPA’s informational goals are intended to serve. This Article explains how the practice of piecemealed environmental review detracts from the informational approach of SEPA, as well as the difficulties that courts have faced in identifying it.
Keywords: SEPA, environment, courts
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