Appeals court: Obama violating law on nuclear-waste site
In a rebuke to the Obama administration, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been violating federal law by delaying a decision on a proposed nuclear-waste dump in Nevada.
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — In a rebuke to the Obama administration, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has been violating federal law by delaying a decision on a proposed nuclear-waste dump in Nevada.
By a 2-1 vote, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered the commission to complete the licensing process and approve or reject the Energy Department’s application for a never-completed waste-storage site at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.
In a sharply worded opinion, the court said the nuclear agency was “simply flouting the law” when it allowed the Obama administration to continue plans to close the proposed waste site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The action goes against a federal law designating Yucca Mountain as the nation’s nuclear-waste repository, including waste from the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state.
“The president may not decline to follow a statutory mandate or prohibition simply because of policy objections,” Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a majority opinion, which was joined by Judge A. Raymond Randolph. Chief Judge Merrick Garland dissented.
The appeals court said the case has important implications for the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government.
“It is no overstatement to say that our constitutional system of separation of powers would be significantly altered if we were to allow executive and independent agencies to disregard federal law in the manner asserted in this case by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” Kavanaugh wrote.
A spokesman for the NRC said Tuesday the agency was reviewing the decision. He declined further comment.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the Energy Department was not a party to the lawsuit, but he characterized the Yucca Mountain project as “a complete stalemate.” He said he saw no evidence of that changing.
“Currently we do not have funding,” he told reporters at a clean-energy conference Tuesday in Las Vegas.
The court’s decision was hailed by supporters of the Yucca site, which has been the focus of a dispute that stretches back more than three decades. The government has spent an estimated $15 billion on the site but has never completed it. No waste is stored there.
South Carolina and Washington state were among several parties to a lawsuit seeking to force the NRC to rule on the Yucca Mountain application. The states both have large nuclear-waste sites that would use the Yucca repository.
The Obama administration, under pressure from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, abandoned the project early in the president’s first term. In 2011, the NRC allowed the shutdown to stand, citing “budgetary limitations” imposed by Congress. The NRC is an independent agency that oversees commercial nuclear operations.
Reid, a Democrat, called the appeals-court decision “fairly meaningless,” noting that Congress has nearly eliminated funding for Yucca and is unlikely to restore it.
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson called the ruling good news for his state — particularly residents near the Hanford nuclear complex in central Washington, where millions of gallons of nuclear waste is stored in underground tanks that have leaked.