The opinion of the court was delivered by: BARLOW
The United States Postal Service is presently constructing a $20 million mail processing facility in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, which is designed to absorb many smaller processing operations located in various central New Jersey communities. The United States Post Office in Dover Township, New Jersey houses one such processing facility.
As a result of the construction of the new centralized processing facility, the Township of Dover instituted the present action in which it seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the Postal Service has failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321, et seq. (NEPA), and the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4231, et seq. (ICA). Specifically, the plaintiff would have this Court require that the Postal Service prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C) prior to moving the Dover Township processing facility to Hamilton Township. Additionally, the plaintiff argues that the defendants have failed to comply with the mandate of 42 U.S.C. § 4231(b) of the ICA which they insist requires the Postal Service to consult with Dover Township officials before relocating the Dover Post Office processing facility.
The defendants take the position that neither the provisions of NEPA nor ICA are applicable here and, accordingly, move for a judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Subsequent to the filing of the instant action, the defendants submitted the affidavit of John R. Cochran, a Regional Director of the Postal Service. Thus, the Court will treat the motion as one for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The plaintiff filed a cross-motion for summary judgment.
The threshold consideration for the Court must be whether the action contemplated by the Postal Service -- closing the Dover Township processing facility -- is an action which falls within the zone of interest protected by NEPA. If the Postal Service action falls within the purview of NEPA -- as the plaintiff insists it does -- then an EIS must be prepared if the action is a "major Federal action significantly affecting the quality of the environment", 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C).
Specifically, the plaintiff contends that the defendants' action here
will result in the decrease of existing and future employment opportunities in the 'Township' with respect to such mail-processing facilities and will otherwise substantially and irreparably harm the commercial, social, and general human environment of the 'Township' to the detriment of the Plaintiff and its residents.
Complaint at 4. Here, the plaintiff speaks in terms of a commercial and social impact on the community and fails to express a concern with any impact which the planned shift of facilities may have on the physical environment of Dover Township. Thus, it appears that the plaintiff's concern over the defendants' proposed action is more socioeconomic than ecological. In Breckinridge v. Rumsfeld, 537 F.2d 864 (6th Cir. 1976), the Sixth Circuit had occasion to consider the scope of the term "human environment". In that case, the Army had decided to close a military base and transfer the personnel elsewhere, and chose not to file an EIS. The plaintiffs in Breckinridge argued, as does the plaintiff here,
Id. at 865. The Sixth Circuit firmly disagreed, holding that NEPA does not apply where
there is no long term impact, no permanent commitment of a natural resource and no degradation of a traditional environmental asset, but rather [only] short term personal inconveniences and short term economic disruptions.
Id. The Breckinridge court gleaned the congressional intent of the term "human environment" from the remarks of Senator Jackson which had been made on the Senate floor during a discussion of NEPA. Senator Jackson characterized this term as "the integrity of man's life support system". Id. at 867 (quoting from 115 Cong. Rec. 40417 (1969)).
This is not to say that socio-economic factors may not be considered here. See, e.g., Chelsea Neighborhood Associations v. United States Postal Service, 516 F.2d 378, 388 (2d Cir. 1975). Rather, the importance of such factors is secondary to the ecological considerations which must assume a primary role in evaluating the environmental impact of a federal action. Breckinridge, supra, at 866. Without ...