The role of the courts is simply to ensure that an agency has adequately considered and disclosed the environmental impact of its actions and that its decision is not arbitrary or capricious.
Petitioner Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Commission) adopted generic rules to evaluate the environmental effects of a nuclear powerplant's fuel cycle. Table S-3 was a numerical compilation of the estimated resources used and effluents released by fuel cycle activities supporting a year's operation of a typical light-water reactor. Respondent Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) challenged the zero-release assumption and faulting the Table S-3 rule for failing to consider the health, cumulative, and socioeconomic effects of the fuel cycle activities. The Court of Appeals held that the rules adopted by the Commission were arbitrary and capricious and inconsistent with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because the Commission had not factored the consideration of uncertainties surrounding the zero-release assumption into the licensing process in such a manner that the uncertainties could potentially affect the outcome of any decision to license a plant.
Were the Commission’s decisions with regard to its evaluation of the environmental effects of a nuclear powerplant’s fuel cycle arbitrary or capricious, and thus, non-compliant with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)?
The Court posited that the commission complied with NEPA and that its decision was not arbitrary or capricious. According to the Court, the commission could use generic rulemaking to balance generic costs and benefits to produce a generic "net value," which could then be considered together with case-specific costs and benefits in individual proceedings. The Court further determined that the commission's zero-release assumption is within the bounds of reasoned decision-making required by § 10(e) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).