Keith H. Hirokawa, Prima Facie Burden and the Vanishing SEPA Threshold: Washington’s Emerging Preference for Efficiency over Accuracy, 37 Gonz. L. Rev. 403 (2002).[PDF] [Westlaw] [LexisNexis]
The purpose of the Washington State Environmental Policy Act (“SEPA”) is simple: governmental action should be environmentally informed. This simple goal stands in contrast to a history of development, permitting, legislative proposals, and other governmental actions that are memorable for the lack of foresight with which the decisions were made. To preclude recurrences of such action, SEPA requires agencies to prepare “a detailed statement” that acts as “the basis upon which the responsible agency and officials can make the balancing judgment mandated by SEPA between the benefits to be gained by the proposed ‘major action’ and its impact upon the environment.” This detailed statement is a procedural means to ensure that decision makers have “sufficient information to make a reasoned decision” and requires a thorough, searching inquiry (environmental impact statement (“EIS”)) whenever the initial environmental review of a proposal (the threshold determination) indicates that the proposal will cause a “significant, adverse environmental impact.” This process does not mandate environmentally friendly decisions, but is intended to guarantee that the government will act in light of environmental consequences.