1970 “Era of Environmentalism” Begins
The emerging power of the national environmental movement was demonstrated with passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. An important aspect of NEPA is the requirement that federal agencies must describe the impacts a development they sponsor or build will have on people and on natural resources, such as air, water, land, and wildlife, and also must describe how to minimize those impacts. The Oahe project was one of the first projects to be subjected to such a disclosure document.
Preparing such a document –called an environmental impact statement- necessitates many months of work including the use of many experts. Public hearings must be held to take testimony on a draft impact statement before a final impact statement is completed. This marked the first time that developers were required to consider environmental impacts alongside economic impacts. Developers immediately recognized the opportunities such a document offered to those concerned about a certain project. A primary opportunity is the option to sue a federal agency over the adequacy of an impact statement. Within several years following passage of NEPA other important federal environmental legislation was passed, including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, and both added protections to public health and the environment, and offered citizens, including a growing number of environmentalists, additional opportunities to question and contest water development projects.