Train v. Colorado Public Interest Research Group, Inc

Decision Date01 June 1976
Docket NumberNo. 74-1270,74-1270
Citation48 L.Ed.2d 434,96 S.Ct. 1938,426 U.S. 1
PartiesRussell TRAIN, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, et al., Petitioners, v. COLORADO PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP, INC., et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) makes it unlawful to discharge "pollutants" into navigable waters without a permit from the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and defines the term "pollutant" to include, Inter alia, "radioactive materials." The Atomic Energy Act (AEA) regulates the production, possession, and use of three types of radioactive materials source, byproduct, and special nuclear materials and pursuant to its authority under the AEA the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) (now succeeded in this capacity by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) has issued regulations governing the discharge of such materials into the environment by AEA licensees. After the EPA Administrator had disclaimed any authority under the FWPCA to regulate the discharge of these three types of radioactive materials covered by the AEA, respondents, who claimed potential harm from the discharge of radioactive effluents from two nuclear plants in Colorado operated in conformity with AEC standards, brought suit against peti- tioners, the EPA and its Administrator, seeking a declaration that the definition of "pollutant" under the FWPCA encompasses all radioactive materials, including those regulated under the AEA, and an injunction directing petitioners to regulate the discharge of all such materials. The District Court held that the AEC had exclusive authority to regulate discharges of radioactive materials covered by the AEA, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding, exclusively by reference to the FWPCA's language and without reference to its legislative history, that the FWPCA requires the EPA to regulate discharges of all radioactive materials, including those covered by the AEA. Held :

1. To the extent that the Court of Appeals excluded reference to the FWPCA's legislative history in discerning the meaning of the statute, the court was in error, for "(w)hen aid to construction of the meaning of words, as used in the statute, is available, there certainly can be no 'rule of law' which forbids its use, however, clear the words may appear on 'superficial examination.' " United States v. American Trucking Assns., 310 U.S. 534, 543-544, 60 S.Ct. 1059, 1063-1064, 84 L.Ed. 1345, 1350-1352. Pp. 9-11.

2. The FWPCA's legislative history reflects a congressional intention not to alter the AEC's control over the discharge of source, byproduct, and special nuclear materials. Therefore, the "pollutants" subject to regulation under the FWPCA do not include such materials, and the EPA Administrator acted in accordance with his statutory mandate in declining to regulate the discharge of these materials. Pp. 11-25.

10 Cir., 507 F.2d 743, reversed.

A. Raymond Randolph, Jr., Washington, D. C., for petitioners.

David C. Mastbaum, Boulder, Colo., for respond- ents.

Mr. Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in this case is whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA), as amended in 1972, 86 Stat. 816, 33 U.S.C. § 1251 Et seq. (1970 ed., Supp. IV), to regulate the discharge into the

[Amicus Curiae Information from page 3 intentionally omitted] Nation's waterways of nuclear waste materials subject to gulation by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and its successors under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (AEA). 68 Stat. 919, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2011 Et seq. In statutory terms, the question is whether these nuclear materials are "pollutants" within the meaning of the FWPCA.

I

Respondents are Colorado-based organizations and Colorado residents who claim potential harm from the discharge of radioactive effluents from two nuclear plants the Fort St. Vrain Nuclear Generating Station and the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons components plant. These facilities are operated in conformity with radioactive effluent standards imposed by the AEC pursuant to the Atomic Energy Act. The dispute in this case arises because the EPA has disclaimed any authority under the FWPCA to set standards of its own to govern the discharge of radioactive materials subject to regulation under the AEA. Respondents, taking issue with the EPA's disclaimer of authority, brought this suit against petitioners, the EPA and its Administrator, under § 505 of the FWPCA, 33 U.S.C. § 1365 (1970 ed., Supp. IV), which authorizes "citizen suits" against the Administrator for failure to perform nondiscretionary duties under the FWPCA. They sought a declaration that the definition of a "pollutant" under the FWPCA encompasses all radioactive materials, including those regulated under the terms of the AEA of 1954, and an injunction directing the EPA and its Administrator to regulate the discharge of all such radioactive materials.

On cross-motions for summary judgment, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado held that the AEC had exclusive authority to regulate discharges of radioactive materials covered by the AEA. 373 F.Supp. 991 (1974). The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed, holding that the FWPCA requires the EPA to regulate discharges into the Nation's waters of all radioactive materials, including those coved by the AEA. 507 F.2d 743 (1974). Because of the importance of the issue involved in this case, we granted certiorari. 421 U.S. 998, 95 S.Ct. 2393, 44 L.Ed.2d 664 (1975). We now reverse.

II

Since 1946, when the first Atomic Energy Act was passed, 60 Stat. 755, the Federal Government has exercised control over the production and use of atomic energy through the AEC replaced since the commencement of this litigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA).1 Under the AEA, private parties are permitted to engage in the production of atomic energy for industrial or commercial purposes, but only in accordance with licenses issued by the AEC (NRC) in the furtherance of the purposes of the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 2133.

The comprehensive regulatory scheme created by the AEA embraces the production, possession, and use of three types of radioactive materials source material, 2 special nuclear material,3 and byproduct material.4 In carrying out its regulatory duties under the AEA, the AEC is authorized to establish "such standards . . . as (it) may deem necessary or desirable . . . to product health or to minimize danger to life or property." 42 U.S.C. § 2201(b). See also 42 U.S.C. §§ 2073(b), (e), 2093(b), 2111, 2133(a), (d), 2134(d). Pursuant to this authority, the AEC (NRC) has established by regulation maximum permissible releases of source, byproduct, and special nuclear materials into the environment by licensees. 10 CFR § 20.106 and App. B, Table II (1976). The regulations further provide that licensees should, in addition to complying with the established limits, "make every reasonable effort to maintain . . . releases of radioactive materials in effluents . . . as low as is reasonably achievable." 10 CFR § 20.1(c) (1976). Similarly, the regulations require that nuclear facilities be designed to keep levels of radioactive material in effluents "as low as is reasonably achievable." 10 CFR § 50.34a (1976). See also 10 CFR §§ 50.36a, 50.57(a)(3), (6) (1976)5 The FWPCA established a regulatory program to control and abate water pollution, stating as its ultimate objective the elimination of all discharges of "pollutants" into the navigable waters by 1985. In furtherance of this objective, the FWPCA calls for the achievement of effluent limitations that require applications of the "best practicable control technology currently available" by July 1, 1977, and the "best available technology economically achievable" by July 1, 1983. 33 U.S.C. § 1311(b) (1970 ed., Supp. IV). These effluent limitations are enforced through a permit program. The discharge of "pollutants" into water is unlawful without a permit issued by the Administrator of the EPA or, if a State has developed a program that complies with the FWPCA, by the State.)6 33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a), 1342 (1970 ed., Supp. IV).

The term "pollutant" is defined by the FWPCA to include, Inter alia, "radioactive materials." 7 But when the Administrator of the EPA adopted regulations governing the permit program, 40 CFR, pt. 125 (1975), he specifically excluded source, byproduct, and special nuclear materials those covered by the AEA from the program upon his understanding of the relevant legislative history of the FWPCA:

"The legislative history of the Act reflects that the term 'radioactive materials' as included within the definition of 'pollutant' in section 502 of the Act covers only radioactive materials which are not encompassed in the definition of source, byproduct, or special nuclear materials as defined by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended, and regulated pursuant to the latter Act. Examples of radioactive materials not covered by the Atomic Energy Act and, therefore, included within the term 'pollutant' are radium and accelerator produced isotopes." 40 CFR § 125.1(y) (1975) (citations omitted).8

It was the Administrator's exclusion of source, byproduct, and special nuclear materials from the permit program, and consequent refusal to regulate them, that precipitated the instant lawsuit. The question we are presented with, then, is whether source, byproduct, and special nuclear materials are "pollutants" within e meaning of the FWPCA.

III

The Court of Appeals resolved the question exclusively by reference to the language of the statute. It observed that the FWPCA defines "pollution" as "the man-made or man-induced alteration of the chemical, physical, biological, and radiological integrity of water." 33 U.S.C. § 1362(19) (1970 ed., Supp. IV)....

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