Baltimore G. & E. Co. v. NRDC - 462 U.S. 87 (1983)

U.S. Supreme Court

Baltimore G. & E. Co. v. NRDC, 462 U.S. 87 (1983)

Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. v.

Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.

No. 82-524

Argued April 19, 1983

Decided June 6, 1983*

462 U.S. 87


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.

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. 462 U. S. 97-108.

(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 "tentative but favorable" that an appropriate storage site

Page 462 U. S. 88

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. 462 U. S. 97-106.

(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. 462 U. S. 106-108.

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

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except POWELL, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

Page 462 U. S. 89

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