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Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
547 F.2d 633 (D.C. Cir. 1976)


In 1972, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) instituted a rulemaking proceeding to consider whether the environmental effects of the nuclear waste should be considered in individual cases deciding whether to license a particular nuclear plant. It considered two options: (1) leave the environmental impact factor out of the cost-benefit decision completely or (2) compute the environmental impact for a particular plant based on the amounts of chemical and radiological elements that the plant would add to the environment. The NRC held a public hearing on the two proposals. It made available before the hearing the Environmental Survey, a commission staff report which had concluded that the environmental impact of nuclear waste disposal was minimal. The NRC did not allow discovery or cross-examination of any of the witnesses at the hearing. Groups such as the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) (plaintiff), a public interest environmental group, participated in the hearing. The only discussion of the environmental impact of nuclear waste was a 20-page statement by Dr. Frank Pittman, director of the NRC’s division of waste management and transportation, which was delivered at the oral hearing. The statement was then adopted into the revised version of the Environmental Study published after the comment period. In April 1974, the NRC adopted the second option. The NRDC petitioned the United States Court of Appeals to overturn the NRC’s decision to adopt the rule, arguing that the refusal to allow cross-examination of witnesses or other discovery violated the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirement that adverse environmental effects be investigated to the “fullest extent possible.” 42 U.S.C. § 4332.

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