Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.

PETITIONER: Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation
RESPONDENT: Natural Resources Defense Council
LOCATION: Exxon Headquarters

DOCKET NO.: 76-419
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 435 US 519 (1978)
ARGUED: Nov 28, 1977
DECIDED: Apr 03, 1978

ADVOCATES:
Charles A. Horsky - for petitioner in No. 76-528
Lawrence G. Wallace - for respondent Nuclear Regulatory Commission in support of petitioners
Myron M. Cherry - for respondents in No. 76-528
Richard E. Ayres - for respondents in No. 76-419
Thomas G. Dignan, Jr. - for petitioner in No. 76-419

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 28, 1977 in Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 03, 1978 in Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and the opinion of the court in Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation against Natural Resources Defense Council, and others and the related case, Consumer's Power against Aeschliman will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

These consolidated cases involve the licensing of nuclear power plants.

In 76-419, the Vermont Yankee case, after a hearing before the licensing board of what is now called the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, petitioner Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation was awarded a license to operate a nuclear a power plant in Vernon, Vermont.

Shortly therefore the commission promulgated a rule to the effect that it was necessary in licensing proceedings to consider the environmental effects of operations to reprocess nuclear fuel or dispose of waste resulting from the reprocessing operations.

The commission then reexamined Vermont Yankee's operating license in light of this new rule and determined that Vermont Yankee should still retain its license.

Upon a challenge initiated by the respondent National Resources Defense Council in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbian Circuit, the rule was invalidated because the procedures employed by the agency in promulgating a rule were in the opinion of that court inadequate despite the fact of the agency employed all the procedures expressly required by the terms of the Administrative Procedure Act.

The court further ruled that the Commission must reconsider under a validly promulgated rule, it's decision with respect of Vermont Yankee's operating license.

In 76-528 the Consumer's power case, again after the required administrative hearing, the licensing board awarded a permit to petitioner consumer's power company to construct two nuclear reactors in Midland, Michigan.

The Court of Appeals again ordered the Commission to reconsider its decision.

This time the court ruled that the environmental impact statement for construction of the reactors was fatally defective, and because it failed to examine energy conservation measures as an alternative to plants of the size presently contemplated by consumers.

The court also held that the report given to the commission by the advisory committee on reactor safeguards was insufficient, and the Commission should have on its motion, so to speak, sent the report back to the committee for further elucidation.

We granted certiorari to consider important questions of administrative law raised by these rulings.

In an opinion filed with a clerk today, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

We hold that the Court of Appeals has misapplied the statutory and decisional law which caution reviewing courts against improperly intruding into an agency's decision making process and against engrafting their own notions of proper procedures upon agencies entrusted with substantive functions by Congress.

Indeed administrative decision should be set aside only for substantial procedural or substantive reasons as mandated by statute.

Yet some of the court's reasons in this case for ordering a remand in this case are at best insubstantial.

We are left with a distinct impression that the review in this case can fairly be described as judicial intervention run riot.

Congress has made fundamental policy choices regarding the development and use of nuclear energy and those choices are not subject to reexamination in the federal courts under the guise of judicial review of agency action.

Time may prove wrong the decision to develop nuclear energy as it may prove wrong countless other legislative decisions.

But it is Congress and the appropriate agencies which must eventually make any such judgment.

It is not one entrusted to the courts, upon remand the Court is of course free to examine the rule under the standard of review enunciated in the Administrative Procedure Act.

Mr. Justice Blackmun and Mr. Justice Powell took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Rehnquist.