Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power v. Natural Resources Defense Council

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Plaintiff

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Defendant

Vermont Yankee

Facts

Under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, a company seeking to construct and operate a nuclear power plant must obtain must obtain a license or permit. The applications are reviewed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. After the review, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board conducts a public hearing which can be appealed to and Appeal Board. There is a similar process for applying for a license to operate the plant.

After the adjudicatory hearing to build the plant, Defendant was granted a permit to build the plant. It then applied for a license to operate the plant. However, the plaintiff objected to the license. A hearing followed in which the the issue of environmental effects of operations was excluded. This decision was appealed and affirmed by the Appeal Board.

However, in response to this ruling, the Commission initiated a rulemaking session to deal with the questions of certain environmental effects of nuclear power. The rulemaking session would make a rule choice based on a survey called the "Environmental Survey of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle." Cross examination and discovery would not be allowed, but the Commission would provide the public to see the survey and documents cited, and allow opportunity to present position with counsel. People would also be able to supplement the transcript with written data.

After the hearing, the Commission adopted a rule. The Commission said that the rule overruled inconsistant parts of the Vermont Yankee adjudication.

Procedural History

Plaintiff appeals the Commissions adoptions of the rule and the grant to Vermont Yankee of the license.

Discussion

The court first lays out a its general rule:

"Absent constitutional contraints or extremely compelling circumstances the administrative agencies should be free to fashion their own rules of procedure and to pursue methods of inquiry capable of permitting them to discharge their multitudinous duties." The court may NOT routinely require procedures more than the minimum required by section 553. The court gives three reasons for this

  1. If the judiciary had to decide for each case the amount of process, judicial review would be totally unpredictable
  2. If courts could add procedures, agencies would play it safe and use more procedures than optimal
  3. Judicial interference of this kind interfere's with Congress's design.