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Calvert Cliffs' Coordinating Comm., Inc. v. United States Atomic Energy Com. - 146 U.S. App. D.C. 33, 449 F.2d 1109 (1971)


To ensure that the balancing analysis is carried out and given full effect, § 102(2)(C) of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C.S. § 4321 et seq., requires that responsible officials of all agencies prepare a "detailed statement" covering the impact of particular actions on the environment, the environmental costs which might be avoided, and alternative measures which might alter the cost-benefit equation. Beyond the "detailed statement," § 102(2)(D) requires all agencies specifically to study, develop, and describe appropriate alternatives to recommended courses of action in any proposal which involves unresolved conflicts concerning alternative uses of available resources. Moreover, by compelling a formal "detailed statement" and a description of alternatives, NEPA provides evidence that the mandated decision making process has in fact taken place and, most importantly, allows those removed from the initial process to evaluate and balance the factors on their own.


Plaintiff citizens' group filed suit against defendant United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), alleging that the commission's regulations did not satisfy the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C.S. § 4321 et seq. NEPA, like so much other reform legislation of the last 40 years, is cast in terms of a general mandate and broad delegation of authority to new and old administrative agencies. It takes the major step of requiring all federal agencies to consider values of environmental preservation in their spheres of activity, and it prescribes certain procedural measures to ensure that those values are in fact fully respected. AEC, on the other hand, contends that the vagueness of the NEPA mandate and delegation leaves much room for discretion and that the rules challenged by petitioners fall well within the broad scope of the Act.


Did the AEC's regulations satisfy the requirements of NEPA?




The court determined that the AEC's rules governing consideration of environmental issues had to be revised because NEPA required an exercise of substantive discretion which would protect the environment "to the fullest extent possible" and the commission's rules did not do so. The court found: (1) that the AEC's rule stating that the hearing board need not consider environmental factors unless affirmatively raised was not proper under NEPA and that environmental factors had to be considered; (2) that the absence of a timetable for NEPA compliance did not justify the AEC's delay in adopting NEPA rules; (3) that the hearing board could not merely rely on other agencies' performance of environmental standards, which allowed abdication and did not follow a balancing analysis required by NEPA; thus, the AEC had to conduct its own independent evaluation; and (4) that the hearing board had to consider environmental factors in issuing operating permits, even if a construction permit had been issued prior to NEPA compliance requirements.

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