462 U.S. 87 (1983), 82-524, 82-545 and 82-551., Baltimore Gas And Elec. Co. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.

Docket Nº:Nos. 82-524, 82-545 and 82-551.
Citation:462 U.S. 87, 103 S.Ct. 2246, 76 L.Ed.2d 437
Party Name:BALTIMORE GAS AND ELECTRIC CO., et al., Petitioners v. NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL, INC. UNITED STATES NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION, et al., Petitioners v. NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL, INC., et al. COMMONWEALTH EDISON COMPANY, et al., Petitioners v. NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL, INC., et al.
Case Date:June 06, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 87

462 U.S. 87 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 2246, 76 L.Ed.2d 437

BALTIMORE GAS AND ELECTRIC CO., et al., Petitioners

v.

NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL, INC.

UNITED STATES NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION, et al., Petitioners

v.

NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL, INC., et al.

COMMONWEALTH EDISON COMPANY, et al., Petitioners

v.

NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL, INC., et al.

Nos. 82-524, 82-545 and 82-551.

United States Supreme Court.

June 6, 1983

Argued April 19, 1983.

Remand of orders of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with respect to licensing of nuclear power plants, 547 F.2d 633, was reversed by the United States Supreme Court, 435 U.S. 519, 98 S.Ct. 1197, 55 L.Ed.2d 460, and case was remanded. On remand, the Court of Appeals, Bazelon, Senior Circuit Judge, 685 F.2d 459, vacated and remanded, and certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Justice O'Connor, held that Nuclear Regulatory Commission's decision that nuclear power plant licensing boards should assume, for purposes of the National Environmental Policy Act, that the permanent storage of certain nuclear wastes would have no significant environmental impact and thus should not affect the decision whether to license a particular nuclear power plant was within the bounds of reasoned decision making required by the Administrative Procedure Act, and was in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act's requirement of consideration and disclosure of environmental impacts of licensing decisions.

Reversed.

[103 S.Ct. 2247] Syllabus[*]

SYLLABUS

Section 102(2)(C) of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impact of any major federal action. The dispute in these cases concerns the adoption by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of a series of generic rules to evaluate the environmental effects of a nuclear powerplant's fuel cycle. In these rules, the NRC decided that licensing boards should assume, for purposes of NEPA, that the permanent storage of certain nuclear wastes would have no significant environmental impact (the so-called "zero-release" assumption) and thus should not affect the decision whether to license a particular nuclear powerplant. At the heart of each rule is Table S-3, a numerical compilation of the estimated resources used and effluents released by fuel cycle activities supporting a year's operation of a typical light water reactor. Challenges to the rules ultimately resulted in a decision by the Court of Appeals, on a petition for review of the final version of the rules, that the rules were arbitrary and capricious and inconsistent with NEPA because the NRC had not factored the consideration of uncertainties surrounding the zero-release assumption into the licensing process in such a manner that the uncertainties could potentially affect the outcome of any decision to license a plant.

[103 S.Ct. 2248] Held: The NRC complied with NEPA, and its decision is not arbitrary or capricious within the meaning of § 10(e) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Pp. 2252-2258.

(a) The zero-release assumption, which was designed for the limited purpose of individual licensing decisions and which is but a single figure in Table S-3, is within the bounds of reasoned decisionmaking required by the APA. The NRC, in its statement announcing the final Table S-3 rule, summarized the major uncertainties of long-term storage of nuclear wastes, noted that the probability of intrusion was small, and found the evidence "tenable but favorable" that an appropriate storage site

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could be found. Table S-3 refers interested persons to staff studies that discuss the uncertainties in greater detail. In these circumstances, the NRC complied with NEPA's requirements of consideration and disclosure of the environmental impacts of its licensing decisions. It is not the task of this Court to determine what decision it would have reached if it had been the NRC. The Court's only task is to determine whether the NRC had considered the relevant factors and articulated a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made. Under this standard, the zero-release assumption, within the context of Table S-3 as a whole, was not arbitrary or capricious. Pp. 2252-2257.

(b) It is inappropriate to cast doubt on the licensing proceedings simply because of a minor ambiguity in the language of an earlier rule as to whether licensing boards were required to consider health effects, socioeconomic effects, or cumulative impacts, where there is no evidence that this ambiguity prevented any party from making as full a presentation as desired or ever affected the decision to license a plant. Pp. 2257-2258.

222 U.S.App.D.C. 9, 685 F.2d 459, reversed.

COUNSEL

David A. Strauss argued the cause for petitioners in all cases. With him on the briefs for petitioners in No. 82-545 were Solicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General Dinkins, Deputy Solicitor General Claiborne, John H. Garvey, Jacques B. Gelin, and E. Leo Slaggie. Henry V. Nickel, F. William Brownell, and George C. Freeman, Jr., filed briefs for petitioners in No. 82-524. James P. McGranery, Jr., and Michael I. Miller filed briefs for petitioners in No. 82-551. Raymond M. Momboisse, Sam Kazman, Ronald A. Zumbrun, and Robert K. Best filed a brief for respondent Pacific Legal Foundation in support of petitioners.

Timothy B. Atkeson argued the cause for respondents in all cases and filed a brief for respondent Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. Robert Abrams, Attorney General, Ezra I. Bialik, Assistant Attorney General, and Peter H. Schiff filed a brief for respondent State of New York.d

d Briefs of amicus curiae urging reversal were filed by Harold F. Reis andLinda L. Hodge for the Atomic Industrial Forum, Inc.; and by Wayne T. Elliott for Scientists and Engineers for Secure Energy, Inc.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the State of Minnesota by Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, and Jocelyn Furtwangler Olson, Special Assistant Attorney General; for the State of Wisconsin et al. byBronson C. La Follette, Attorney General of Wisconsin, and Carl A. Sinderbrand, Assistant Attorney General; Robert T. Stephan, Attorney General of Kansas, andRobert Vinson Eye, Assistant Attorney General; William J. Guste, Jr., Attorney General of Louisiana; Joseph I. Lieberman, Attorney General of Connecticut;John J. Easton, Jr., Attorney General of Vermont, and Merideth Wright, Assistant Attorney General; John Ashcroft, Attorney General of Missouri, andRobert Lindholm, Assistant Attorney General; William M. Leech, Jr., Attorney General of Tennessee; Mark V. Meierhenry, Attorney General of South Dakota;Paul G. Bardacke, Attorney General of New Mexico; Tany S. Hong, Attorney General of Hawaii; Chauncey H. Browning, Jr., Attorney General of West Virginia, and Leonard Knee, Deputy Attorney General; A.G. McClintock, Attorney General of Wyoming; Jim Mattox, Attorney General of Texas, and David Richards, Executive Assistant Attorney General; Janice E. Kerr and J. Calvin Simpson; for Kansans for Sensible Energy by John M. Simpson; and for Limerick Ecology Action, Inc., et al. by Charles W. Elliott.

David A. Strauss, Washington, D.C., for petitioners.

Timothy B. Atkeson, Washington, D.C., for respondents.

OPINION

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Justice O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 102(2)(C) of the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C) (NEPA), requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impact of any major federal action. 1 As part of its generic rulemaking proceedings to evaluate the environmental effects of the nuclear fuel cycle for nuclear power plants, the Nuclear

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Regulatory Commission (Commission)2 decided that licensing boards should assume, for purposes of NEPA, that the permanent storage of certain nuclear wastes would have no significant environmental impact and thus should not affect the decision whether to license a particular nuclear power plant. We conclude that the Commission complied with NEPA and that its decision is not arbitrary or capricious within the meaning of § 10(e) [103 S.Ct. 2249] of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 706. 3

I

The environmental impact of operating a light-water nuclear power plant4 includes the effects of offsite activities necessary to provide fuel for the plant ("front end" activities), and of offsite activities necessary to dispose of the highly toxic and long-lived nuclear wastes generated by the plant ("back end" activities). The dispute in these cases concerns

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the Commission's adoption of a series of generic rules to evaluate the environmental effects of a nuclear power plant's fuel cycle. At the heart of each rule is Table S-3, a numerical compilation of the estimated resources used and effluents released by fuel cycle activities supporting a year's operation of a typical light-water reactor. 5 The three versions of Table S-3 contained similar numerical values, although the supporting documentation has been amplified during the course of the proceedings.

The Commission first adopted Table S-3 in 1974, after extensive informal rulemaking proceedings. 39 Fed.Reg. 14188 et seq. (1974). This "original" rule, as it later came to be described, declared that in environmental reports and impact statements for individual licensing proceedings the environmental costs of the fuel cycle "shall be as set forth" in Table S-3 and that "[n]o further discussion of such environmental effects shall be required." Id., at 14191. 6 The original Table S-3 contained no numerical entry for the long-term

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environmental effects of storing solidified transuranic and high-level wastes,7 because the Commission staff believed that technology would be developed to isolate the wastes from the environment. The Commission and the parties have...

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