You are on page 1of 41

U.S.

Supreme Court
Baltimore G. & E. Co. v. NRDC, 462 U.S. 87 (1983)
Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. v.
Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.
No. 82-524
Argued April 19, 1983
Decided June 6, 1983*
462 U.S. 87

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR


THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT
Syllabus
Section 102(2)(C) of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires
federal agencies to consider the environmental impact of any major federal
action. The dispute in these cases concerns the adoption by the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission (NRC) of a series of generic rules to evaluate the
environmental effects of a nuclear powerplant's fuel cycle. In these rules,
the NRC decided that licensing boards should assume, for purposes of
NEPA, that the permanent storage of certain nuclear wastes would have no
significant environmental impact (the so-called "zero release" assumption),
and thus should not affect the decision whether to license a particular
nuclear powerplant. At the heart of each rule is Table S-3, 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. Challenges to the rules ultimately resulted in a decision by the
Court of Appeals, on a petition for review of the final version of the rules,
that the rules were arbitrary and capricious and inconsistent with NEPA
because the NRC 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.
Held: The NRC complied with NEPA, and its decision is not arbitrary or
capricious within the meaning of § 10(e) of the Administrative Procedure
Act (APA). Pp. 462 U. S. 97-108.
(a) The zero release assumption, which was designed for the limited
purpose of individual licensing decisions and which is but a single figure in
Table S-3, is within the bounds of reasoned decisionmaking required by the
APA. The NRC, in its statement announcing the final Table S-3 rule,
summarized the major uncertainties of long-term storage of nuclear
wastes, noted that the probability of intrusion was small, and found the
evidence "tentative but favorable" that an appropriate storage site
Page 462 U. S. 88

1
could be found. Table S-3 refers interested persons to staff studies that
discuss the uncertainties in greater detail. In these circumstances, the
NRC complied with NEPA's requirements of consideration and disclosure of
the environmental impacts of its licensing decisions. It is not the task of
this Court to determine what decision it would have reached if it had been
the NRC. The Court's only task is to determine whether the NRC had
considered the relevant factors and articulated a rational connection
between the facts found and the choice made. Under this standard, the zero
release assumption, within the context of Table S-3 as a whole, was not
arbitrary or capricious. Pp. 462 U. S. 97-106.
(b) It is inappropriate to cast doubt on the licensing proceedings simply
because of a minor ambiguity in the language of an earlier rule as to
whether licensing boards were required to consider health effects,
socioeconomic effects, or cumulative impacts, where there is no evidence
that this ambiguity prevented any party from making as full a presentation
as desired or ever affected the decision to license a plant. Pp. 462 U. S.
106-108.
222 U.S.App.D.C. 9, 685 F.2d 459, reversed.
O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other
Members joined, except POWELL, J., who took no part in the consideration
or decision of the cases.
Page 462 U. S. 89

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.


Section 102(2)(C) of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 83 Stat.
853, 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C) (NEPA), requires federal agencies to consider
the environmental impact of any major federal action. [Footnote 1] As part
of its generic rulemaking proceedings to evaluate the environmental
effects of the nuclear fuel cycle for nuclear powerplants, the Nuclear
Page 462 U. S. 90
Regulatory Commission (Commission) [Footnote 2] decided that licensing
boards should assume, for purposes of NEPA, that the permanent storage of
certain nuclear wastes would have no significant environmental impact,
and thus should not affect the decision whether to license a particular
nuclear powerplant. We conclude that the Commission complied with NEPA,
and that its decision is not arbitrary or capricious within the meaning of §
10(e) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 706. [Footnote 3]

The environmental impact of operating a light-water nuclear powerplant


[Footnote 4]includes the effects of off-site activities necessary to provide

2
fuel for the plant ("front end" activities), and of off-site activities necessary
to dispose of the highly toxic and long-lived nuclear wastes generated by
the plant ("back end" activities). The dispute in these cases concerns
Page 462 U. S. 91
the Commission's adoption of a series of generic rules to evaluate the
environmental effects of a nuclear powerplant's fuel cycle. At the heart of
each rule is Table S-3, 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. [Footnote 5] The three versions of
Table S-3 contained similar numerical values, although the supporting
documentation has been amplified during the course of the proceedings.
The Commission first adopted Table S-3 in 1974, after extensive informal
rulemaking proceedings. 39 Fed.Reg. 14188 et seq. (1974). This "original"
rule, as it later came to be described, declared that in environmental
reports and impact statements for individual licensing proceedings the
environmental costs of the fuel cycle "shall be as set forth" in Table S-3,
and that "[n]o further discussion of such environmental effects shall be
required." Id. at 14191. [Footnote 6] The original Table S-3 contained no
numerical entry for the long-term
Page 462 U. S. 92
environmental effects of storing solidified transuranic and high-level
wastes, [Footnote 7] because the Commission staff believed that
technology would be developed to isolate the wastes from the environment.
The Commission and the parties have later termed this assumption of
complete repository integrity as the "zero release" assumption: the
reasonableness of this assumption is at the core of the present
controversy.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a respondent in the
present cases, challenged the original rule and a license issued under the
rule to the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. The Court of Appeals for
the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed Table S-3's treatment of the "front
end" of the fuel cycle, but vacated and remanded the portion of the rule
relating to the "back end" because of perceived inadequacies in the
rulemaking procedures. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. NRC,
178 U.S.App.D.C. 336, 547 F.2d 633 (1976). Judge Tamm disagreed that the
procedures were inadequate, but concurred on the ground that the record
on waste storage was inadequate to support the zero release assumption.
Id. at 361, 547 F.2d at 658.
In Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. Natural Resources Defense
Council, Inc., 435 U. S. 519 (1978), this Court unanimously reversed the
Court of Appeals' decision that the Commission had used inadequate
procedures, finding that the Commission had done all that was required by

3
NEPA and the APA and determining that courts generally lack the authority
to impose "hybrid" procedures greater than those contemplated by the
governing statutes. We remanded for review of whether the original rule
was adequately supported by the administrative record, specifically
Page 462 U. S. 93
stating that the court was free to agree or disagree with Judge Tamm's
conclusion that the rule pertaining to the "back end" of the fuel cycle was
arbitrary and capricious within the meaning of § 10(e) of the APA, 5 U.S.C. §
706. Id. at 536, n. 14.
While Vermont Yankee was pending in this Court, the Commission proposed
a new "interim" rulemaking proceeding to determine whether to adopt a
revised Table S-3. The proposal explicitly acknowledged that the risks from
long-term repository failure were uncertain, but suggested that research
should resolve most of those uncertainties in the near future. 41 Fed.Reg.
45850-45851 (1976). After further proceedings, the Commission
promulgated the interim rule in March 1977. Table S-3 now explicitly stated
that solidified high-level and transuranic wastes would remain buried in a
federal repository, and therefore would have no effect on the environment.
42 Fed.Reg. 13807 (1977). Like its predecessor, the interim rule stated that
"[n]o further discussion of such environmental effects shall be required."
Id. at 13806. The NRDC petitioned for review of the interim rule, challenging
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 stayed proceedings while awaiting
this Court's decision in Vermont Yankee. In April, 1978, the Commission
amended the interim rule to clarify that health effects were not covered by
Table S-3 and could be litigated in individual licensing proceedings. 43
Fed.Reg. 15613 et seq. (1978).
In 1979, following further hearings, the Commission adopted the "final"
Table S-3 rule. 44 Fed.Reg. 45362 et seq. (1979). Like the amended interim
rule, the final rule expressly stated that Table S-3 should be supplemented
in individual proceedings by evidence about the health, socioeconomic, and
cumulative aspects of fuel cycle activities. The Commission also continued
to adhere to the zero release
Page 462 U. S. 94
assumption that the solidified waste would not escape and harm the
environment once the repository was sealed. It acknowledged that this
assumption was uncertain because of the remote possibility that water
might enter the repository, dissolve the radioactive materials, and transport
them to the biosphere. Nevertheless, the Commission predicted that a
bedded-salt repository would maintain its integrity, and found the evidence
"tentative but favorable" that an appropriate site would be found. Id. at

4
45368. The Commission ultimately determined that any undue optimism in
the assumption of appropriate selection and perfect performance of the
repository is offset by the cautious assumption, reflected in other parts of
the Table, that all radioactive gases in the spent fuel would escape during
the initial 6- to 20-year period that the repository remained open, ibid., and
thus did not significantly reduce the overall conservatism of Table S-3. Id.
at 45369.
The Commission rejected the option of expressing the uncertainties in
Table S-3 or permitting licensing boards, in performing the NEPA analysis
for individual nuclear plants, to consider those uncertainties. It saw no
advantage in reassessing the significance of the uncertainties in individual
licensing proceedings:
"In view of the uncertainties noted regarding waste disposal, the question
then arises whether these uncertainties can or should be reflected
explicitly in the fuel cycle rule. The Commission has concluded that the
rule should not be so modified. On the individual reactor licensing level,
where the proceedings deal with fuel cycle issues only peripherally, the
Commission sees no advantage in having licensing boards repeatedly
weigh for themselves the effect of uncertainties on the selection of fuel
cycle impacts for use in cost-benefit balancing. This is a generic question
properly dealt with in the rulemaking as part of choosing what impact
values should go into the fuel cycle rule. The Commission concludes,
having
Page 462 U. S. 95
noted that uncertainties exist, that, for the limited purpose of the fuel cycle
rule, it is reasonable to base impacts on the assumption which the
Commission believes the probabilities favor, i.e., that bedded-salt repository
sites can be found which will provide effective isolation of radioactive
waste from the biosphere."
Id. at 45369.
The NRDC and respondent State of New York petitioned for review of the
final rule. The Court of Appeals consolidated these petitions for all
purposes with the pending challenges to the initial and interim rules.
[Footnote 8] By a divided panel, [Footnote 9] the court concluded that the
Table S-3 rules were arbitrary and capricious and inconsistent with 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 particular plant. Natural Resources
Defense Council, Inc. v. NRC, 222 U.S.App.D.C. 9, 685 F.2d 459 (1982). The
court first reasoned that NEPA requires an agency to consider all
significant environmental risks from its proposed action. If the zero release

5
assumption is taken as a finding that long-term storage poses no
significant environmental
Page 462 U. S. 96
risk, which the court acknowledged may not have been the Commission's
intent, it found that the assumption represents a self-evident error in
judgment, and is thus arbitrary and capricious. As the evidence in the
record reveals and the Commission itself acknowledged, the zero release
assumption is surrounded with uncertainty.
Alternatively, reasoned the Court of Appeals, the zero release assumption
could be characterized as a decisionmaking device whereby the
Commission, rather than individual licensing boards, would have sole
responsibility for considering the risk that long-lived wastes will not be
disposed of with complete success. The court recognized that the
Commission could use generic rulemaking to evaluate environmental costs
common to all licensing decisions. Indeed, the Commission could use
generic rulemaking to balance generic costs and benefits to produce a
generic "net value." These generic evaluations could then be considered
together with case-specific costs and benefits in individual proceedings.
The key requirement of NEPA, however, is that the agency consider and
disclose the actual environmental effects in a manner that will ensure that
the overall process, including both the generic rulemaking and the
individual proceedings, brings those effects to bear on decisions to take
particular actions that significantly affect the environment. The Court of
Appeals concluded that the zero release assumption was not in accordance
with this NEPA requirement, because the assumption prevented the
uncertainties -- which were not found to be insignificant or outweighed by
other generic benefits -- from affecting any individual licensing decision.
Alternatively, by requiring that the licensing decision ignore factors that
are relevant under NEPA, the zero release assumption is a clear error in
judgment, and thus arbitrary and capricious.
We granted certiorari. 459 U.S. 1034 (1982). We reverse.
Page 462 U. S. 97

II

We are acutely aware that the extent to which this Nation should rely on
nuclear power as a source of energy is an important and sensitive issue.
Much of the debate focuses on whether development of nuclear generation
facilities should proceed in the face of uncertainties about their long-term
effects on the environment. Resolution of these fundamental policy
questions lies, however, with Congress and the agencies to which Congress

6
has delegated authority, as well as with state legislatures and, ultimately,
the populace as a whole. Congress has assigned the courts only the
limited, albeit important, task of reviewing agency action to determine
whether the agency conformed with controlling statutes. As we
emphasized in our earlier encounter with these very proceedings,
"[a]dministrative decisions should be set aside in this context, as in every
other, only for substantial procedural or substantive reasons as mandated
by statute . . . , not simply because the court is unhappy with the result
reached."
Vermont Yankee, 435 U.S. at 435 U. S. 558.
The controlling statute at issue here is NEPA. NEPA has twin aims. First, it
"places upon an agency the obligation to consider every significant aspect
of the environmental impact of a proposed action." Vermont Yankee, supra,
at 435 U. S. 553. Second, it ensures that the agency will inform the public
that it has indeed considered environmental concerns in its
decisionmaking process. Weinberger v. Catholic Action of Hawaii/Peace
Education Project, 454 U. S. 139, 454 U. S. 143 (1981). Congress in enacting
NEPA, however, did not require agencies to elevate environmental concerns
over other appropriate considerations. See Stryckers' Bay Neighborhood
Council v. Karlen, 444 U. S. 223, 444 U. S. 227 (1980) (per curiam). Rather, it
required only that the agency take a "hard look" at the environmental
consequences before taking a major action. See Kleppe v. Sierra Club, 427
U. S. 390, 427 U. S. 410, n. 21 (1976). The role of the courts is simply to
ensure that the
Page 462 U. S. 98
agency has adequately considered and disclosed the environmental impact
of its actions, and that its decision is not arbitrary or capricious. See
generally Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U. S. 402, 401
U. S. 415-417 (1971).
In its Table S-3 rule here, the Commission has determined that the
probabilities favor the zero release assumption, because the Nation is likely
to develop methods to store the wastes with no leakage to the
environment. The NRDC did not challenge, and the Court of Appeals did not
decide, the reasonableness of this determination, 222 U.S.App.D.C. at 28, n.
96, 685 F.2d at 478, n. 96, and no party seriously challenges it here. The
Commission recognized, however, that the geological, chemical, physical,
and other data it relied on in making this prediction were based, in part, on
assumptions which involve substantial uncertainties. Again, no one
suggests that the uncertainties are trivial or the potential effects
insignificant if time proves the zero release assumption to have been
seriously wrong. After confronting the issue, though, the Commission has
determined that the uncertainties concerning the development of nuclear

7
waste storage facilities are not sufficient to affect the outcome of any
individual licensing decision. [Footnote 10]
It is clear that the Commission, in making this determination, has made the
careful consideration and disclosure required by NEPA. The sheer volume of
proceedings before the Commission is impressive. [Footnote 11] Of far
greater importance,
Page 462 U. S. 99
the Commission's Statement of Consideration announcing the final Table S-
3 rule shows that it has digested this mass of material and disclosed all
substantial risks. 44 Fed.Reg. 45367-45369 (1979). The Statement
summarizes the major uncertainty of long-term storage in bedded-salt
repositories, which is that water could infiltrate the repository as a result
of such diverse factors as geologic faulting, a meteor strike, or accidental
or deliberate intrusion by man. The Commission noted that the probability
of intrusion was small, and that the plasticity of salt would tend to heal
some types of intrusions. The Commission also found the evidence
"tentative but favorable" that an appropriate site could be found. Table S-3
refers interested persons to staff studies that discuss the uncertainties in
greater detail. [Footnote 12] Given this record
Page 462 U. S. 100
and the Commission's statement, it simply cannot be said that the
Commission ignored or failed to disclose the uncertainties surrounding its
zero release assumption.
Congress did not enact NEPA, of course, so that an agency would
contemplate the environmental impact of an action as an abstract exercise.
Rather, Congress intended that the "hard look" be incorporated as part of
the agency's process of deciding whether to pursue a particular federal
action. It was on this ground that the Court of Appeals faulted the
Commission's action, for failing to allow the uncertainties potentially to "tip
the balance" in a particular licensing decision. As a general proposition, we
can agree with the Court of Appeals' determination that an agency must
allow all significant environmental risks to be factored into the decision
whether to undertake a proposed action. We think, however, that the Court
of Appeals erred in concluding that the Commission had not complied with
this standard.
As Vermont Yankee made clear, NEPA does not require agencies to adopt
any particular internal decisionmaking structure. Here, the agency has
chosen to evaluate generically
Page 462 U. S. 101
the environmental impact of the fuel cycle and inform individual licensing
boards, through the Table S-3 rule, of its evaluation. The generic method
chosen by the agency is clearly an appropriate method of conducting the

8
"hard look" required by NEPA. See Vermont Yankee, 435 U.S. at 435 U. S.
535, n. 13. The environmental effects of much of the fuel cycle are not
plant-specific, for any plant, regardless of its particular attributes, will
create additional wastes that must be stored in a common long-term
repository. Administrative efficiency and consistency of decision are both
furthered by a generic determination of these effects without needless
repetition of the litigation in individual proceedings, which are subject to
review by the Commission in any event. See generally Ecology Action v.
AEC, 492 F.2d 998, 1002, n. 5 (CA2 1974) (Friendly, J.) (quoting
Administrative Conference Proposed Recommendation 73-6).
The Court of Appeals recognized that the Commission has discretion to
evaluate generically the environmental effects of the fuel cycle and require
that these values be "plugged into" individual licensing decisions. The
court concluded that the Commission nevertheless violated NEPA by failing
to factor the uncertainty surrounding long-term storage into Table S-3 and
precluding individual licensing decisionmakers from considering it.
The Commission's decision to affix a zero value to the environmental
impact of long-term storage would violate NEPA, however, only if the
Commission acted arbitrarily and capriciously in deciding generically that
the uncertainty was insufficient to affect any individual licensing decision.
In assessing whether the Commission's decision is arbitrary and
capricious, it is crucial to place the zero release assumption in context.
Three factors are particularly important. First is the Commission's repeated
emphasis that the zero release assumption -- and, indeed, all of the Table S-
3 rule -- was made for a limited purpose. The Commission expressly noted
its intention to supplement the rule with an explanatory narrative.
[Footnote 13]
Page 462 U. S. 102
It also emphasized that the purpose of the rule was not to evaluate or
select the most effective long-term waste disposal technology or develop
site selection criteria. A separate an comprehensive series of programs has
been undertaken to serve these broader purposes. [Footnote 14] In the
proceedings before us, the Commission's staff did not attempt to evaluate
the environmental effects of all possible methods of disposing of waste.
Rather, it chose to analyze intensively the most probable long-term waste
disposal method -- burial in a bedded-salt repository several hundred
meters below ground -- and then "estimate its impacts conservatively,
based on the best available information and analysis." 44 Fed.Reg. 45363
(1979). [Footnote 15] The zero release assumption cannot be evaluated in
isolation. Rather, it must be assessed in relation to the limited purpose for
which the Commission made the assumption.

9
Second, the Commission emphasized that the zero release assumption is
but a single figure in an entire Table, which the
Page 462 U. S. 103
Commission expressly designed as a risk-averse estimate of the
environmental impact of the fuel cycle. It noted that Table S-3 assumed
that the fuel storage canisters and the fuel rod cladding would be corroded
before a repository is closed, and that all volatile materials in the fuel
would escape to the environment. [Footnote 16] Given that assumption, and
the improbability that materials would escape after sealing, the
Commission determined that the overall Table represented a conservative
(i.e., inflated) statement of environmental impacts. It is not unreasonable
for the Commission to counteract the uncertainties in post-sealing releases
by balancing them with an overestimate of pre-sealing releases. [Footnote
17] A reviewing court should not magnify a single line item beyond its
significance as only part of a larger Table.
Third, a reviewing court must remember that the Commission is making
predictions, within its area of special expertise, at the frontiers of science.
When examining this kind of scientific determination, as opposed to simple
findings of fact, a reviewing court must generally be at its most deferential.
See, e.g., Industrial Union Dept. v. American Petroleum Institute, 448 U. S.
607, 448 U. S. 656 (1980) (plurality opinion); id. at 448 U. S. 705-706
(MARSHALL, J., dissenting).
Page 462 U. S. 104

With these three guides in mind, we find the Commission's zero release
assumption to be within the bounds of reasoned decisionmaking required
by the APA. We have already noted that the Commission's Statement of
Consideration detailed several areas of uncertainty, and discussed why
they were insubstantial for purposes of an individual licensing decision. The
Table S-3 rule also refers to the staff reports, public documents that
contain a more expanded discussion of the uncertainties involved in
concluding that long-term storage will have no environmental effects.
These staff reports recognize that rigorous verification of long-term risks
for waste repositories is not possible, but suggest that data and
extrapolation of past experience allow the Commission to identify events
that could produce repository failure, estimate the probability of those
events, and calculate the resulting consequences. NUREG-0116 at 4-86.
[Footnote 18] The Commission staff also modeled the consequences of
repository failure by tracing the flow of contaminated water, and found
them to be insignificant. Id. at 4-89 through 4-94. Ultimately, the staff
concluded that

10
"[t]he radiotoxic hazard index analyses and the modeling studies that have
been done indicate that consequences of all but the most improbable
events will be small.
Page 462 U. S. 105
Risks (probabilities times consequences) inherent in the long-term for
geological disposal will therefore also be small."
Id. at 2-11.
We also find significant the separate views of Commissioners Bradford and
Gilinsky. These Commissioners expressed dissatisfaction with the zero
release assumption, and yet emphasized the limited purpose of the
assumption and the overall conservatism of Table S-3. Commissioner
Bradford characterized the bedded-salt repository as a responsible working
assumption for NEPA purposes, and concurred in the zero release figure
because it does not appear to affect Table S-3's overall conservatism. 44
Fed.Reg. 45372 (1979). Commissioner Gilinsky was more critical of the
entire Table, stating that the Commission should confront directly whether
it should license any nuclear reactors in light of the problems of waste
disposal, rather than hide an affirmative conclusion to this issue behind a
table of numbers. He emphasized that the "waste confidence proceeding,"
see n 14, supra, should provide the Commission an appropriate vehicle for a
thorough evaluation of the problems involved in the Government's
commitment to a waste disposal solution. For the limited purpose of
individual licensing proceedings, however, Commissioner Gilinsky found it
"virtually inconceivable" that the Table should affect the decision whether
to license, and characterized as "naive" the notion that the fuel cycle
effluents could tip the balance in some cases and not in others. 44 Fed.Reg.
45374 (1979).
In sum, we think that the zero release assumption -- a policy judgment
concerning one line in a conservative Table designed for the limited
purpose of individual licensing decisions -- is within the bounds of reasoned
decisionmaking. It is not our task to determine what decision we, as
Commissioners, would have reached. Our only task is to determine whether
the Commission has considered the relevant factors and articulated a
rational connection between the facts found and the choice made. Bowman
Transportation, Inc. v.
Page 462 U. S. 106
Arkansas-Best Freight System, Inc., 419 U. S. 281, 419 U. S. 285-286 (1974);
Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U. S. 402 (1971). Under
this standard, we think the Commission's zero release assumption, within
the context of Table S-3 as a whole, was not arbitrary and capricious.

III

11
As we have noted, n 5, supra, Table S-3 describes effluents and other
impacts in technical terms. The Table does not convert that description into
tangible effects on human health or other environmental variables. The
original and interim rules declared that
"the contribution of the environmental effects of . . . fuel cycle activities . . .
shall be as set forth in the following Table S-3 [and] [n]o further discussion
of such environmental effects shall be required."
39 Fed.Reg. 14191 (1974); 42 Fed.Reg. 13806 (1977). Since the Table does
not specifically mention health effects, socioeconomic impacts, or
cumulative impacts, this declaration does not clearly require or preclude
their discussion. The Commission later amended the interim rule to clarify
that health effects were not covered by Table S-3 and could be litigated in
individual licensing proceedings. In the final rule, the Commission
expressly required licensing boards to consider the socioeconomic and
cumulative effects in addition to the health effects of the releases
projected in the Table. 44 Fed.Reg. 45371 (1979). [Footnote 19]
The Court of Appeals held that the original and interim rules violated NEPA
by precluding licensing boards from considering the health, socioeconomic,
and cumulative effects of the environmental impacts stated in technical
terms. As does the Commission, we agree with the Court of Appeals that
NEPA requires an EIS to disclose the significant health, socioeconomic, and
cumulative consequences of the environmental
Page 462 U. S. 107
impact of a proposed action. See Metropolitan Edison Co. v. People Against
Nuclear Energy, 460 U. S. 766 (1983); Kleppe v. Sierra Club, 427 U.S. at 427
U. S. 410; 40 CFR §§ 1508.7, 1508.8 (1982). We find no basis, however, for the
Court of Appeals' conclusion that the Commission ever precluded a
licensing board from considering these effects.
It is true, as the Commission pointed out in explaining why it modified the
language in the earlier rules, that the original Table S-3 rule "at least
initially was apparently interpreted as cutting off" discussion of the effects
of effluent releases. 44 Fed.Reg. 45364 (1979). But even the notice
accompanying the earlier versions stated that the Table was "to be used as
a basis for evaluating the environmental effects in a cost-benefit analysis
for a reactor," 39 Fed.Reg. 14190 (1974) (emphasis added), suggesting that
individual licensing boards were to assess the consequences of effluent
releases. And when, operating under the initial rule, the Atomic Safety and
Licensing Appeal Board suggested the desirability of discussing health
effects for comparing nuclear with coal plants, In re Tennessee Valley
Authority (Hartsville Nuclear Plant Units), 5 N.R.C. 92, 103, n. 52 (1977), the
Commission staff was allowed to introduce evidence of public health

12
consequences. Cf. In re Public Service Company of Indiana (Marble Hill
Nuclear Generating Station), 7 N.R.C. 179, 187 (1978).
Respondents have pointed to no case where evidence concerning health or
other consequences of the data in Table S-3 was excluded from licensing
proceedings. We think our admonition in Vermont Yankee applies with equal
force here:
"[W]hile it is true that NEPA places upon an agency the obligation to
consider every significant aspect of the environmental impact of a
proposed action, it is still incumbent upon intervenors who wish to
participate to structure their participation so that it is meaningful, so that
it alerts the agency to the intervenors' position and contentions."
435 U.S. at 435 U. S. 553.
Page 462 U. S. 108

In short, we find it totally inappropriate to cast doubt on licensing


proceedings simply because of a minor ambiguity in the language of the
earlier rule under which the environmental impact statement was made,
when there is no evidence that this ambiguity prevented any party from
making as full a presentation as desired, or ever affected the decision to
license the plant.

IV

For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia Circuit is
Reversed.
JUSTICE POWELL took no part in the consideration or decision of these
cases.
Page 462 U. S. 109

13
Calvert Cliffs' Coordinating Committee, Inc., et al., Petitioners, v. United
States Atomic Energy Commission and United States of America,
Respondents,baltimore Gas and Electric Company, Intervenor.calvert Cliffs'
Coordinating Committee, Inc., et al., Petitioners, v. United States Atomic
Energy Commission and United States of America, Respondents, 449 F.2d
1109 (D.C. Cir. 1971)
Annotate this Case

U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit - 449 F.2d 1109
(D.C. Cir. 1971)
Argued April 16, 1971
Decided July 23, 1971

14
COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED Mr. Anthony Z. Roisman, Washington, D. C.,
with whom Messrs. Myron M. Cherry, Chicago, Ill., and Lewis Drain, Grand
Rapids, Mich., were on the brief, for petitioners.

Mr. Marcus A. Rowden, Solicitor, Atomic Energy Commission, with whom


Messrs. Howard K. Shapar, Asst. Gen. Counsel, Licensing and Regulation,
Atomic Energy Commission, and Edmund Clark, Atty., Department of
Justice, were on the brief, for respondents. Mr. William C. Parler, Atty.,
Atomic Energy Commission, also entered an appearance for respondent
Atomic Energy Commission.
Mr. George F. Trowbridge, Washington, D. C., with whom Mr. Jay E. Silberg,
Washington, D. C., was on the brief, for intervenor in No. 24,839.
Messrs. George D. Gibson and Arnold H. Quint, Washington, D. C., filed a
brief on behalf of Duke Power Company et al. as amici curiae in No. 24,871.
Mr. Roy B. Snapp, Washington, D. C., filed a brief on behalf of Arkansas
Power and Light Company as amicus curiae in No. 24,871.
Messrs. Arvin E. Upton, Leonard M. Trosten and Henry V. Nickel,
Washington, D. C., filed a brief on behalf of Consolidated Edison Company
as amicus curiae in No. 24,871.
Mr. Jerome E. Sharfman, Washington, D. C., filed a brief on behalf of
Consumers Power Company as amicus curiae in No. 24,871.
Messrs. H. Edward Dunkelberger, Jr., Christopher M. Little and Peter M.
Phillipes, Washington, D. C., filed a brief on behalf of Indiana and Michigan
Electric Company and Portland General Electric Company as amici curiae
in No. 24,871.
Before WRIGHT, TAMM and ROBINSON, Circuit Judges.

These cases are only the beginning of what promises to become a flood of
new litigation — litigation seeking judicial assistance in protecting our
natural environment. Several recently enacted statutes attest to the
commitment of the Government to control, at long last, the destructive
engine of material "progress."1 But it remains to be seen whether the
promise of this legislation will become a reality. Therein lies the judicial
role. In these cases, we must for the first time interpret the broadest and
perhaps most important of the recent statutes: the National Environmental
Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).2 We must assess claims that one of the
agencies charged with its administration has failed to live up to the
congressional mandate. Our duty, in short, is to see that important
legislative purposes, heralded in the halls of Congress, are not lost or
misdirected in the vast hallways of the federal bureaucracy.

15
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. Petitioners argue that rules
recently adopted by the Atomic Energy Commission to govern consideration
of environmental matters fail to satisfy the rigor demanded by NEPA. The
Commission, 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. We
find the policies embodied in NEPA to be a good deal clearer and more
demanding than does the Commission. We conclude that the Commission's
procedural rules do not comply with the congressional policy. Hence we
remand these cases for further rule making.

* We begin our analysis with an examination of NEPA's structure and


approach and of the Atomic Energy Commission rules which are said to
conflict with the requirements of the Act. The relevant portion of NEPA is
Title I, consisting of five sections.3 Section 101 sets forth the Act's basic
substantive policy: that the federal government "use all practicable
means and measures" to protect environmental values. Congress did not
establish environmental protection as an exclusive goal; rather, it desired
a reordering of priorities, so that environmental costs and benefits will
assume their proper place along with other considerations. In Section
101(b), imposing an explicit duty on federal officials, the Act provides that
"it is the continuing responsibility of the Federal Government to use all
practicable means, consistent with other essential considerations of
national policy," to avoid environmental degradation, preserve "historic,
cultural, and natural" resources, and promote "the widest range of
beneficial uses of the environment without * * * undesirable and
unintended consequences."
*
Thus the general substantive policy of the Act is a flexible one. It leaves
room for a responsible exercise of discretion and may not require particular
substantive results in particular problematic instances. However, the Act
also contains very important "procedural" provisions — provisions which
are designed to see that all federal agencies do in fact exercise the
substantive discretion given them. These provisions are not highly flexible.
Indeed, they establish a strict standard of compliance.

16
NEPA, first of all, makes environmental protection a part of the mandate of
every federal agency and department. The Atomic Energy Commission, for
example, had continually asserted, prior to NEPA, that it had no statutory
authority to concern itself with the adverse environmental effects of its
actions.4 Now, however, its hands are no longer tied. It is not only
permitted, but compelled, to take environmental values into account.
Perhaps the greatest importance of NEPA is to require the Atomic Energy
Commission and other agencies to consider environmental issues just as
they consider other matters within their mandates. This compulsion is most
plainly stated in Section 102. There, "Congress authorizes and directs that,
to the fullest extent possible: (1) the policies, regulations, and public laws
of the United States shall be interpreted and administered in accordance
with the policies set forth in this Act * * *." Congress also "authorizes and
directs" that "(2) all agencies of the Federal Government shall" follow
certain rigorous procedures in considering environmental values.5 Senator
Jackson, NEPA's principal sponsor, stated that " [n]o agency will [now] be
able to maintain that it has no mandate or no requirement to consider the
environmental consequences of its actions."6 He characterized the
requirements of Section 102 as "action-forcing" and stated that "
[o]therwise, these lofty declarations [in Section 101] are nothing more than
that."7

The sort of consideration of environmental values which NEPA compels is


clarified in Section 102(2) (A) and (B). In general, all agencies must use a
"systematic, interdisciplinary approach" to environmental planning and
evaluation "in decisionmaking which may have an impact on man's
environment." In order to include all possible environmental factors in the
decisional equation, agencies must "identify and develop methods and
procedures * * * which will insure that presently unquantified
environmental amenities and values may be given appropriate
consideration in decisionmaking along with economic and technical
considerations."8 "Environmental amenities" will often be in conflict with
"economic and technical considerations." To "consider" the former "along
with" the latter must involve a balancing process. In some instances
environmental costs may outweigh economic and technical benefits and in
other instances they may not. But NEPA mandates a rather finely tuned and
"systematic" balancing analysis in each instance.9

To ensure that the balancing analysis is carried out and given full effect,
Section 102(2) (C) 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

17
alternative measures which might alter the cost-benefit equation. The
apparent purpose of the "detailed statement" is to aid in the agencies' own
decision making process and to advise other interested agencies and the
public of the environmental consequences of planned federal action.
Beyond the "detailed statement," Section 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." This
requirement, like the "detailed statement" requirement, seeks to ensure
that each agency decision maker has before him and takes into proper
account all possible approaches to a particular project (including total
abandonment of the project) which would alter the environmental impact
and the cost-benefit balance. Only in that fashion is it likely that the most
intelligent, optimally beneficial decision will ultimately be made. 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.
Of course, all of these Section 102 duties are qualified by the phrase "to the
fullest extent possible." We must stress as forcefully as possible that this
language does not provide an escape hatch for footdragging agencies; it
does not make NEPA's procedural requirements somehow "discretionary."
Congress did not intend the Act to be such a paper tiger. Indeed, the
requirement of environmental consideration "to the fullest extent possible"
sets a high standard for the agencies, a standard which must be rigorously
enforced by the reviewing courts.
Unlike the substantive duties of Section 101(b), which require agencies to
"use all practicable means consistent with other essential considerations,"
the procedural duties of Section 102 must be fulfilled to the "fullest extent
possible."10 This contrast, in itself, is revealing. But the dispositive factor
in our interpretation is the expressed views of the Senate and House
conferees who wrote the "fullest extent possible" language into NEPA. They
stated:11
"* * * The purpose of the new language is to make it clear that each agency
of the Federal Government shall comply with the directives set out in * * *
[Section 102(2)] unless the existing law applicable to such agency's
operations expressly prohibits or makes full compliance with one of the
directives impossible. * * * Thus, it is the intent of the conferees that the
provision `to the fullest extent possible' shall not be used by any Federal
agency as a means of avoiding compliance with the directives set out in
section 102. Rather, the language in section 102 is intended to assure that

18
all agencies of the Federal Government shall comply with the directives set
out in said section `to the fullest extent possible' under their statutory
authorizations and that no agency shall utilize an excessively narrow
construction of its existing statutory authorizations to avoid compliance."
Thus the Section 102 duties are not inherently flexible. They must be
complied with to the fullest extent, unless there is a clear conflict of
statutory authority.12 Considerations of administrative difficulty, delay or
economic cost will not suffice to strip the section of its fundamental
importance.
We conclude, then, that Section 102 of NEPA mandates a particular sort of
careful and informed decisionmaking process and creates judicially
enforceable duties. The reviewing courts probably cannot reverse a
substantive decision on its merits, under Section 101, unless it be shown
that the actual balance of costs and benefits that was struck was arbitrary
or clearly gave insufficient weight to environmental values. But if the
decision was reached procedurally without individualized consideration
and balancing of environmental factors — conducted fully and in good faith
— it is the responsibility of the courts to reverse. As one District Court has
said of Section 102 requirements: "It is hard to imagine a clearer or
stronger mandate to the Courts."13

In the cases before us now, we do not have to review a particular decision


by the Atomic Energy Commission granting a construction permit or an
operating license. Rather, we must review the Commission's recently
promulgated rules which govern consideration of environmental values in
all such individual decisions.14 The rules were devised strictly in order to
comply with the NEPA procedural requirements — but petitioners argue
that they fall far short of the congressional mandate.

The period of the rules' gestation does not indicate overenthusiasm on the
Commission's part. NEPA went into effect on January 1, 1970. On April 2,
1970 — three months later — the Commission issued its first, short policy
statement on implementation of the Act's procedural provisions.15 After
another span of two months, the Commission published a notice of
proposed rule making in the Federal Register.16 Petitioners submitted
substantial comments critical of the proposed rules. Finally, on December
3, 1970, the Commission terminated its long rule making proceeding by
issuing a formal amendment, labelled Appendix D, to its governing
regulations.17 Appendix D is a somewhat revised version of the earlier
proposal and, at last, commits the Commission to consider environmental
impact in its decision making process.

19
The procedure for environmental study and consideration set up by the
Appendix D rules is as follows: Each applicant for an initial construction
permit must submit to the Commission his own "environmental report,"
presenting his assessment of the environmental impact of the planned
facility and possible alternatives which would alter the impact. When
construction is completed and the applicant applies for a license to
operate the new facility, he must again submit an "environmental report"
noting any factors which have changed since the original report. At each
stage, the Commission's regulatory staff must take the applicant's report
and prepare its own "detailed statement" of environmental costs, benefits
and alternatives. The statement will then be circulated to other interested
and responsible agencies and made available to the public. After comments
are received from those sources, the staff must prepare a final "detailed
statement" and make a final recommendation on the application for a
construction permit or operating license.

Up to this point in the Appendix D rules petitioners have raised no


challenge. However, they do attack four other, specific parts of the rules
which, they say, violate the requirements of Section 102 of NEPA. Each of
these parts in some way limits full consideration and individualized
balancing of environmental values in the Commission's decision making
process. (1) Although environmental factors must be considered by the
agency's regulatory staff under the rules, such factors need not be
considered by the hearing board conducting an independent review of staff
recommendations, unless affirmatively raised by outside parties or staff
members. (2) Another part of the procedural rules prohibits any such party
from raising nonradiological environmental issues at any hearing if the
notice for that hearing appeared in the Federal Register before March 4,
1971. (3) Moreover, the hearing board is prohibited from conducting an
independent evaluation and balancing of certain environmental factors if
other responsible agencies have already certified that their own
environmental standards are satisfied by the proposed federal action. (4)
Finally, the Commission's rules provide that when a construction permit for
a facility has been issued before NEPA compliance was required and when
an operating license has yet to be issued, the agency will not formally
consider environmental factors or require modifications in the proposed
facility until the time of the issuance of the operating license. Each of
these parts of the Commission's rules will be described at greater length
and evaluated under NEPA in the following sections of this opinion.
II

20
NEPA makes only one specific reference to consideration of environmental
values in agency review processes. Section 102(2) (C) provides that copies
of the staff's "detailed statement" and comments thereon "shall
accompany the proposal through the existing agency review processes."
The Atomic Energy Commission's rules may seem in technical compliance
with the letter of that provision. They state:
"12. If any party to a proceeding * * * raises any [environmental] issue * * *
the Applicant's Environmental Report and the Detailed Statement will be
offered in evidence. The atomic safety and licensing board will make
findings of fact on, and resolve, the matters in controversy among the
parties with regard to those issues. Depending on the resolution of those
issues, the permit or license may be granted, denied, or appropriately
conditioned to protect environmental values.
"13. When no party to a proceeding * * * raises any [environmental] issue *
* * such issues will not be considered by the atomic safety and licensing
board. Under such circumstances, although the Applicant's Environmental
Report, comments thereon, and the Detailed Statement will accompany the
application through the Commission's review processes, they will not be
received in evidence, and the Commission's responsibilities under the
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 will be carried out in toto outside
the hearing process."18
The question here is whether the Commission is correct in thinking that its
NEPA responsibilities may "be carried out in toto outside the hearing
process" — whether it is enough that environmental data and evaluations
merely "accompany" an application through the review process, but receive
no consideration whatever from the hearing board.
We believe that the Commission's crabbed interpretation of NEPA makes a
mockery of the Act. What possible purpose could there be in the Section
102 (2) (C) requirement (that the "detailed statement" accompany
proposals through agency review processes) if "accompany" means no
more than physical proximity — mandating no more than the physical act of
passing certain folders and papers, unopened, to reviewing officials along
with other folders and papers? What possible purpose could there be in
requiring the "detailed statement" to be before hearing boards, if the
boards are free to ignore entirely the contents of the statement? NEPA was
meant to do more than regulate the flow of papers in the federal
bureaucracy. The word "accompany" in Section 102(2) (C) must not be read
so narrowly as to make the Act ludicrous. It must, rather, be read to
indicate a congressional intent that environmental factors, as compiled in
the "detailed statement," be considered through agency review
processes.19

21
Beyond Section 102(2) (C), NEPA requires that agencies consider the
environmental impact of their actions "to the fullest extent possible." The
Act is addressed to agencies as a whole, not only to their professional
staffs. Compliance to the "fullest" possible extent would seem to demand
that environmental issues be considered at every important stage in the
decision making process concerning a particular action — at every stage
where an overall balancing of environmental and nonenvironmental factors
is appropriate and where alterations might be made in the proposed action
to minimize environmental costs. Of course, consideration which is entirely
duplicative is not necessarily required. But independent review of staff
proposals by hearing boards is hardly a duplicative function. A truly
independent review provides a crucial check on the staff's
recommendations. The Commission's hearing boards automatically
consider nonenvironmental factors, even though they have been previously
studied by the staff. Clearly, the review process is an appropriate stage at
which to balance conflicting factors against one another. And, just as
clearly, it provides an important opportunity to reject or significantly
modify the staff's recommended action. Environmental factors, therefore,
should not be singled out and excluded, at this stage, from the proper
balance of values envisioned by NEPA.

The Commission's regulations provide that in an uncontested proceeding


the hearing board shall on its own "determine whether the application and
the record of the proceeding contain sufficient information, and the review
of the application by the Commission's regulatory staff has been adequate,
to support affirmative findings on" various nonenvironmental factors.20
NEPA requires at least as much automatic consideration of environmental
factors. In uncontested hearings, the board need not necessarily go over
the same ground covered in the "detailed statement." But it must at least
examine the statement carefully to determine whether "the review * * * by
the Commission's regulatory staff has been adequate." And it must
independently consider the final balance among conflicting factors that is
struck in the staff's recommendation.

The rationale of the Commission's limitation of environmental issues to


hearings in which parties affirmatively raise those issues may have been
one of economy. It may have been supposed that, whenever there are
serious environmental costs overlooked or uncorrected by the staff, some
party will intervene to bring those costs to the hearing board's attention. Of
course, independent review of the "detailed statement" and independent
balancing of factors in an uncontested hearing will take some time. If it is
done properly, it will take a significant amount of time. But all of the NEPA

22
procedures take time. Such administrative costs are not enough to
undercut the Act's requirement that environmental protection be
considered "to the fullest extent possible," see text at page 1114, supra. It
is, moreover, unrealistic to assume that there will always be an intervenor
with the information, energy and money required to challenge a staff
recommendation which ignores environmental costs. NEPA establishes
environmental protection as an integral part of the Atomic Energy
Commission's basic mandate. The primary responsibility for fulfilling that
mandate lies with the Commission. Its responsibility is not simply to sit
back, like an umpire, and resolve adversary contentions at the hearing
stage. Rather, it must itself take the initiative of considering environmental
values at every distinctive and comprehensive stage of the process beyond
the staff's evaluation and recommendation.21
III
Congress passed the final version of NEPA in late 1969, and the Act went
into full effect on January 1, 1970. Yet the Atomic Energy Commission's
rules prohibit any consideration of environmental issues by its hearing
boards at proceedings officially noticed before March 4, 1971.22 This is 14
months after the effective date of NEPA. And the hearings affected may go
on for as much as a year longer until final action is taken. The result is that
major federal actions having a significant environmental impact may be
taken by the Commission, without full NEPA compliance, more than two
years after the Act's effective date. In view of the importance of
environmental consideration during the agency review process, see Part II
supra, such a time lag is shocking.
The Commission explained that its very long time lag was intended "to
provide an orderly period of transition in the conduct of the Commission's
regulatory proceedings and to avoid unreasonable delays in the
construction and operation of nuclear power plants urgently needed to
meet the national requirements for electric power."23 Before this court, it
has claimed authority for its action, arguing that "the statute did not lay
down detailed guidelines and inflexible timetables for its implementation;
and we find in it no bar to agency provisions which are designed to
accommodate transitional implementation problems."24

Again, the Commission's approach to statutory interpretation is strange


indeed — so strange that it seems to reveal a rather thorough going
reluctance to meet the NEPA procedural obligations in the agency review
process, the stage at which deliberation is most open to public examination
and subject to the participation of public intervenors. The Act, it is true,
lacks an "inflexible timetable" for its implementation. But it does have a
clear effective date, consistently enforced by reviewing courts up to now.

23
Every federal court having faced the issues has held that the procedural
requirements of NEPA must be met in order to uphold federal action taken
after January 1, 1970.25 The absence of a "timetable" for compliance has
never been held sufficient, in itself, to put off the date on which a
congressional mandate takes effect. The absence of a "timetable," rather,
indicates that compliance is required forthwith.
The only part of the Act which even implies that implementation may be
subject, in some cases, to some significant delay is Section 103. There,
Congress provided that all agencies must review "their present statutory
authority, administrative regulations, and current policies and procedures
for the purpose of determining whether there are any deficiencies or
inconsistencies therein which prohibit full compliance" with NEPA.
Agencies finding some such insuperable difficulty are obliged to "propose
to the President not later than July 1, 1971, such measures as may be
necessary to bring their authority and policies into conformity with the
intent, purposes, and procedures set forth in this Act."
The Commission, however, cannot justify its time lag under these Section
103 provisions. Indeed, it has not attempted to do so; only intervenors have
raised the argument. Section 103 could support a substantial delay only by
an agency which in fact discovered an insuperable barrier to compliance
with the Act and required time to formulate and propose the needed
reformative measures. The actual review of existing statutory authority and
regulations cannot be a particularly lengthy process for experienced
counsel of a federal agency. Of course, the Atomic Energy Commission
discovered no obstacle to NEPA implementation. Although it did not report
its conclusion to the President until October 2, 1970, that nine-month delay
(January to October) cannot justify so long a period of noncompliance with
the Act. It certainly cannot justify a further delay of compliance until March
4, 1971.
No doubt the process formulating procedural rules to implement NEPA
takes some time. Congress cannot have expected that federal agencies
would immediately begin considering environmental issues on January 1,
1970. But the effective date of the Act does set a time for agencies to begin
adopting rules and it demands that they strive, "to the fullest extent
possible," to be prompt in the process. The Atomic Energy Commission has
failed in this regard.26 Consideration of environmental issues in the
agency review process, for example, is quite clearly compelled by the
Act.27 The Commission cannot justify its 11-month delay in adopting rules
on this point as part of a difficult, discretionary effort to decide whether or
not its hearing boards should deal with environmental questions at all.
Even if the long delay had been necessary, however, the Commission would
not be relieved of all NEPA responsibility to hold public hearings on the

24
environmental consequences of actions taken between January 1, 1970 and
final adoption of the rules. Although the Act's effective date may not require
instant compliance, it must at least require that NEPA procedures, once
established, be applied to consider prompt alterations in the plans or
operations of facilities approved without compliance.28 Yet the
Commission's rules contain no such provision. Indeed, they do not even
apply to the hearings still being conducted at the time of their adoption on
December 3, 1970 — or, for that matter, to hearings initiated in the following
three months. The delayed compliance date of March 4, 1971, then, cannot
be justified by the Commission's long drawn out rule making process.
Strangely, the Commission has principally relied on more pragmatic
arguments. It seems an unfortunate affliction of large organizations to
resist new procedures and to envision massive roadblocks to their
adoption. Hence the Commission's talk of the need for an "orderly
transition" to the NEPA procedures. It is difficult to credit the Commission's
argument that several months were needed to work the consideration of
environmental values into its review process. Before the enactment of
NEPA, the Commission already had regulations requiring that hearings
include health, safety and radiological matters.29 The introduction of
environmental matters cannot have presented a radically unsettling
problem. And, in any event, the obvious sense of urgency on the part of
Congress should make clear that a transition, however "orderly," must
proceed at a pace faster than a funeral procession.
In the end, the Commission's long delay seems based upon what it believes
to be a pressing national power crisis. Inclusion of environmental issues in
pre-March 4, 1971 hearings might have held up the licensing of some power
plants for a time. But the very purpose of NEPA was to tell federal agencies
that environmental protection is as much a part of their responsibility as is
protection and promotion of the industries they regulate. Whether or not the
spectre of a national power crisis is as real as the Commission apparently
believes, it must not be used to create a blackout of environmental
consideration in the agency review process. NEPA compels a case-by-case
examination and balancing of discrete factors. Perhaps there may be cases
in which the need for rapid licensing of a particular facility would justify a
strict time limit on a hearing board's review of environmental issues; but a
blanket banning of such issues until March 4, 1971 is impermissible under
NEPA.
IV
The sweep of NEPA is extraordinarily broad, compelling consideration of
any and all types of environmental impact of federal action. However, the
Atomic Energy Commission's rules specifically exclude from full
consideration a wide variety of environmental issues. First, they provide

25
that no party may raise and the Commission may not independently
examine any problem of water quality — perhaps the most significant
impact of nuclear power plants. Rather, the Commission indicates that it
will defer totally to water quality standards devised and administered by
state agencies and approved by the federal government under the Federal
Water Pollution Control Act.30 Secondly, the rules provide for similar
abdication of NEPA authority to the standards of other agencies:
"With respect to those aspects of environmental quality for which
environmental quality standards and requirements have been established
by authorized Federal, State, and regional agencies, proof that the
applicant is equipped to observe and agrees to observe such standards and
requirements will be considered a satisfactory showing that there will not
be a significant, adverse effect on the environment. Certification by the
appropriate agency that there is reasonable assurance that the applicant
for the permit or license will observe such standards and requirements will
be considered dispositive for this purpose."31
The most the Commission will do is include a condition in all construction
permits and operating licenses requiring compliance with the water quality
or other standards set by such agencies.32 The upshot is that the NEPA
procedures, viewed by the Commission as superfluous, will wither away in
disuse, applied only to those environmental issues wholly unregulated by
any other federal, state or regional body.

We believe the Commission's rule is in fundamental conflict with the basic


purpose of the Act. NEPA mandates a case-by-case balancing judgment on
the part of federal agencies. In each individual case, the particular
economic and technical benefits of planned action must be assessed and
then weighed against the environmental costs; alternatives must be
considered which would affect the balance of values. See text at page 1113
supra. The magnitude of possible benefits and possible costs may lie
anywhere on a broad spectrum. Much will depend on the particular
magnitudes involved in particular cases. In some cases, the benefits will be
great enough to justify a certain quantum of environmental costs; in other
cases, they will not be so great and the proposed action may have to be
abandoned or significantly altered so as to bring the benefits and costs into
a proper balance. The point of the individualized balancing analysis is to
ensure that, with possible alterations, the optimally beneficial action is
finally taken.
Certification by another agency that its own environmental standards are
satisfied involves an entirely different kind of judgment. Such agencies,
without overall responsibility for the particular federal action in question,
attend only to one aspect of the problem: the magnitude of certain

26
environmental costs. They simply determine whether those costs exceed
an allowable amount. Their certification does not mean that they found no
environmental damage whatever. In fact, there may be significant
environmental damage (e. g., water pollution), but not quite enough to
violate applicable (e. g., water quality) standards. Certifying agencies do
not attempt to weigh that damage against the opposing benefits. Thus the
balancing analysis remains to be done. It may be that the environmental
costs, though passing prescribed standards, are nonetheless great enough
to outweigh the particular economic and technical benefits involved in the
planned action. The only agency in a position to make such a judgment is
the agency with overall responsibility for the proposed federal action — the
agency to which NEPA is specifically directed.
The Atomic Energy Commission, abdicating entirely to other agencies'
certifications, neglects the mandated balancing analysis. Concerned
members of the public are thereby precluded from raising a wide range of
environmental issues in order to affect particular Commission decisions.
And the special purpose of NEPA is subverted.
Arguing before this court, the Commission has made much of the special
environmental expertise of the agencies which set environmental
standards. NEPA did not overlook this consideration. Indeed, the Act is
quite explicit in describing the attention which is to be given to the views
and standards of other agencies. Section 102 (2) (C) provides:
"Prior to making any detailed statement, the responsible Federal official
shall consult with and obtain the comments of any Federal agency which
has jurisdiction by law or special expertise with respect to any
environmental impact involved. Copies of such statement and the
comments and views of the appropriate Federal, State, and local agencies,
which are authorized to develop and enforce environmental standards, shall
be made available to the President, the Council on Environmental Quality
and to the public * * *."
Thus the Congress was surely cognizant of federal, state and local
agencies "authorized to develop and enforce environmental standards." But
it provided, in Section 102(2) (C), only for full consultation. It most certainly
did not authorize a total abdication to those agencies. Nor did it grant a
license to disregard the main body of NEPA obligations.
Of course, federal agencies such as the Atomic Energy Commission may
have specific duties, under acts other than NEPA, to obey particular
environmental standards. Section 104 of NEPA makes clear that such
duties are not to be ignored:
"Nothing in Section 102 or 103 shall in any way affect the specific statutory
obligations of any Federal agency (1) to comply with criteria or standards of
environmental quality, (2) to coordinate or consult with any other Federal or

27
State agency, or (3) to act, or refrain from acting contingent upon the
recommendations or certification of any other Federal or State agency."
On its face, Section 104 seems quite unextraordinary, intended only to see
that the general procedural reforms achieved in NEPA do not wipe out the
more specific environmental controls imposed by other statutes. Ironically,
however, the Commission argues that Section 104 in fact allows other
statutes to wipe out NEPA.
Since the Commission places great reliance on Section 104 to support its
abdication to standard setting agencies, we should first note the section's
obvious limitation. It deals only with deference to such agencies which is
compelled by "specific statutory obligations." The Commission has brought
to our attention one "specific statutory obligation": the Water Quality
Improvement Act of 1970 (WQIA).33 That Act prohibits federal licensing
bodies, such as the Atomic Energy Commission, from issuing licenses for
facilities which pollute "the navigable waters of the United States" unless
they receive a certification from the appropriate agency that compliance
with applicable water quality standards is reasonably assured. Thus
Section 104 applies in some fashion to consideration of water quality
matters. But it definitely cannot support — indeed, it is not even relevant to
— the Commission's wholesale abdication to the standards and
certifications of any and all federal, state and local agencies dealing with
matters other than water quality.
As to water quality, Section 104 and WQIA clearly require obedience to
standards set by other agencies. But obedience does not imply total
abdication. Certainly, the language of Section 104 does not authorize an
abdication. It does not suggest that other "specific statutory obligations"
will entirely replace NEPA. Rather, it ensures that three sorts of
"obligations" will not be undermined by NEPA: (1) the obligation to "comply"
with certain standards, (2) the obligation to "coordinate" or "consult" with
certain agencies, and (3) the obligation to "act, or refrain from acting
contingent upon" a certification from certain agencies. WQIA imposes the
third sort of obligation. It makes the granting of a license by the
Commission "contingent upon" a water quality certification. But it does not
require the Commission to grant a license once a certification has been
issued. It does not preclude the Commission from demanding water
pollution controls from its licensees which are more strict than those
demanded by the applicable water quality standards of the certifying
agency.34 It is very important to understand these facts about WQIA. For
all that Section 104 of NEPA does is to reaffirm other "specific statutory
obligations." Unless those obligations are plainly mutually exclusive with
the requirements of NEPA, the specific mandate of NEPA must remain in
force. In other words, Section 104 can operate to relieve an agency of its

28
NEPA duties only if other "specific statutory obligations" clearly preclude
performance of those duties.
Obedience to water quality certifications under WQIA is not mutually
exclusive with the NEPA procedures. It does not preclude performance of
the NEPA duties. Water quality certifications essentially establish a
minimum condition for the granting of a license. But they need not end the
matter. The Commission can then go on to perform the very different
operation of balancing the overall benefits and costs of a particular
proposed project, and consider alterations (above and beyond the
applicable water quality standards) which would further reduce
environmental damage. Because the Commission can still conduct the
NEPA balancing analysis, consistent with WQIA, Section 104 does not
exempt it from doing so. And it, therefore, must conduct the obligatory
analysis under the prescribed procedures.
We believe the above result follows from the plain language of Section 104
of NEPA and WQIA. However, the Commission argues that we should delve
beneath the plain language and adopt a significantly different
interpretation. It relies entirely upon certain statements made by Senator
Jackson and Senator Muskie, the sponsors of NEPA and WQIA
respectively.35 Those statements indicate that Section 104 was the
product of a compromise intended to eliminate any conflict between the
two bills then in the Senate. The overriding purpose was to prevent NEPA
from eclipsing obedience to more specific standards under WQIA. Senator
Muskie, distrustful of "self-policing by Federal agencies which pollute or
license pollution," was particularly concerned that NEPA not undercut the
independent role of standard setting agencies.36 Most of his and Senator
Jackson's comments stop short of suggesting that NEPA would have no
application in water quality matters; their goal was to protect WQIA, not to
undercut NEPA. Our interpretation of Section 104 is perfectly consistent
with that purpose.
Yet the statements of the two Senators occasionally indicate they were
willing to go farther, to permit agencies such as the Atomic Energy
Commission to forego at least some NEPA procedures in consideration of
water quality. Senator Jackson, for example, said, "The compromise worked
out between the bills provides that the licensing agency will not have to
make a detailed statement on water quality if the State or other
appropriate agency has made a certification pursuant to [WQIA]."37
Perhaps Senator Jackson would have required some consideration and
balancing of environmental costs — despite the lack of a formal detailed
statement — but he did not spell out his views. No Senator, other than
Senators Jackson and Muskie, addressed himself specifically to the
problem during floor discussion. Nor did any member of the House of

29
Representatives.38 The section-by-section analysis of NEPA submitted to
the Senate clearly stated the overriding purpose of Section 104: that "no
agency may substitute the procedures outlined in this Act for more
restrictive and specific procedures established by law governing its
activities."39 The report does not suggest there that NEPA procedures
should be entirely abandoned, but rather that they should not be
"substituted" for more specific standards. In one rather cryptic sentence,
the analysis does muddy the waters somewhat, stating that " [i]t is the
intention that where there is no more effective procedure already
established, the procedure of this act will be followed."40 Notably,
however, the sentence does not state that in the presence of "more
effective procedures" the NEPA procedure will be abandoned entirely. It
seems purposefully vague, quite possibly meaning that obedience to the
certifications of standard setting agencies must alter, by supplementing,
the normal "procedure of this act."
This rather meager legislative history, in our view, cannot radically
transform the purport of the plain words of Section 104. Had the Senate
sponsors fully intended to allow a total abdication of NEPA responsibilities
in water quality matters — rather than a supplementing of them by strict
obedience to the specific standards of WQIA — the language of Section 104
could easily have been changed. As the Supreme Court often has said, the
legislative history of a statute (particularly such relatively meager and
vague history as we have here) cannot radically affect its interpretation if
the language of the statute is clear. See, e. g., Packard Motor Car Co. v.
NLRB, 330 U.S. 485, 67 S. Ct. 789, 91 L. Ed. 1040 (1947); Kuehner v. Irving
Trust Co., 299 U.S. 445, 57 S. Ct. 298, 81 L. Ed. 340 (1937); Fairport,
Painesville & Eastern R. Co. v. Meredith, 292 U.S. 589, 54 S. Ct. 826, 78 L.
Ed. 1446 (1934); Wilbur v. United States ex rel. Vindicator Consolidated Gold
Mining Co., 284 U.S. 231, 52 S. Ct. 113, 76 L. Ed. 261 (1931). In a recent case
interpreting a veterans' act, the Court set down the principle which must
govern our approach to the case before us:
"Having concluded that the provisions of § 1 are clear and unequivocal on
their face, we find no need to resort to the legislative history of the Act.
Since the State has placed such heavy reliance upon that history, however,
we do deem it appropriate to point out that this history is at best
inconclusive. It is true, as the State points out, that Representative Rankin,
as Chairman of the Committee handling the bill on the floor of the House,
expressed his view during the course of discussion of the bill on the floor
that the 1941 Act would not apply to [the sort of case in question] * * *. But
such statements, even when they stand alone, have never been regarded as
sufficiently compelling to justify deviation from the plain language of a
statute. * * *" United States v. Oregon, 366 U.S. 643, 648, 81 S. Ct. 1278,

30
1281, 6 L. Ed. 2d 575 (1961). (Footnotes omitted.) It is, after all, the plain
language of the statute which all the members of both houses of Congress
must approve or disapprove. The courts should not allow that language to
be significantly undercut. In cases such as this one, the most we should do
to interpret clear statutory wording is to see that the overriding purpose
behind the wording supports its plain meaning. We have done that here. And
we conclude that Section 104 of NEPA does not permit the sort of total
abdication of responsibility practiced by the Atomic Energy Commission.
V
Petitioners' final attack is on the Commission's rules governing a particular
set of nuclear facilities: those for which construction permits were granted
without consideration of environmental issues, but for which operating
licenses have yet to be issued. These facilities, still in varying stages of
construction, include the one of most immediate concern to one of the
petitioners: the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant on Chesapeake Bay in
Maryland.
The Commission's rules recognize that the granting of a construction
permit before NEPA's effective date does not justify bland inattention to
environmental consefquences until the operating license proceedings,
perhaps far in the future. The rules require that measures be taken now for
environmental protection. Specifically, the Commission has provided for
three such measures during the pre-operating license stage. First, it has
required that a condition be added to all construction permits, "whenever
issued," which would oblige the holders of the permits to observe all
applicable environmental standards imposed by federal or state law.
Second, it has required permit holders to submit their own environmental
report on the facility under construction. And third, it has initiated
procedures for the drafting of its staff's "detailed environmental statement"
in advance of operating license proceedings.41
The one thing the Commission has refused to do is take any independent
action based upon the material in the environmental reports and "detailed
statements." Whatever environmental damage the reports and statements
may reveal, the Commission will allow construction to proceed on the
original plans. It will not even consider requiring alterations in those plans
(beyond compliance with external standards which would be binding in any
event), though the "detailed statements" must contain an analysis of
possible alternatives and may suggest relatively inexpensive but highly
beneficial changes. Moreover, the Commission has, as a blanket policy,
refused to consider the possibility of temporarily halting construction in
particular cases pending a full study of a facility's environmental impact. It
has also refused to weigh the pros and cons of "backfitting" for particular
facilities (alteration of already constructed portions of the facilities in

31
order to incorporate new technological developments designed to protect
the environment). Thus reports and statements will be produced, but
nothing will be done with them. Once again, the Commission seems to
believe that the mere drafting and filing of papers is enough to satisfy
NEPA.
The Commission appears to recognize the severe limitation which its rules
impose on environmental protection. Yet it argues that full NEPA
consideration of alternatives and independent action would cause too
much delay at the pre-operating license stage. It justifies its rules as the
most that is "practicable, in the light of environmental needs and `other
essential considerations of national policy'."42 It cites, in particular, the
"national power crisis" as a consideration of national policy militating
against delay in construction of nuclear power facilities.
The Commission relies upon the flexible NEPA mandate to "use all
practicable means consistent with other essential considerations of
national policy." As we have previously pointed out, however, that mandate
applies only to the substantive guidelines set forth in Section 101 of the
Act. See page 1114 supra. The procedural duties, the duties to give full
consideration to environmental protection, are subject to a much more
strict standard of compliance. By now, the applicable principle should be
absolutely clear. NEPA requires that an agency must — to the fullest extent
possible under its other statutory obligations — consider alternatives to its
actions which would reduce environmental damage. That principle
establishes that consideration of environmental matters must be more than
a pro forma ritual. Clearly, it is pointless to "consider" environmental costs
without also seriously considering action to avoid them. Such a full
exercise of substantive discretion is required at every important,
appropriate and nonduplicative stage of an agency's proceedings. See text
at page 1114 supra.
The special importance of the pre-operating license stage is not difficult to
fathom. In cases where environmental costs were not considered in
granting a construction permit, it is very likely that the planned facility will
include some features which do significant damage to the environment and
which could not have survived a rigorous balancing of costs and benefits.
At the later operating license proceedings, this environmental damage will
have to be fully considered. But by that time the situation will have
changed radically. Once a facility has been completely constructed, the
economic cost of any alteration may be very great. In the language of
NEPA, there is likely to be an "irreversible and irretrievable commitment of
resources," which will inevitably restrict the Commission's options. Either
the licensee will have to undergo a major expense in making alterations in

32
a completed facility or the environmental harm will have to be tolerated. It
is all too probable that the latter result would come to pass.
By refusing to consider requirement of alterations until construction is
completed, the Commission may effectively foreclose the environmental
protection desired by Congress. It may also foreclose rigorous
consideration of environmental factors at the eventual operating license
proceedings. If "irreversible and irretrievable commitment [s] of resources"
have already been made, the license hearing (and any public intervention
therein) may become a hollow exercise. This hardly amounts to
consideration of environmental values "to the fullest extent possible."
A full NEPA consideration of alterations in the original plans of a facility,
then, is both important and appropriate well before the operating license
proceedings. It is not duplicative if environmental issues were not
considered in granting the construction permit. And it need not be
duplicated, absent new information or new developments, at the operating
license stage. In order that the pre-operating license review be as effective
as possible, the Commission should consider very seriously the
requirement of a temporary halt in construction pending its review and the
"backfitting" of technological innovations. For no action which might
minimize environmental damage may be dismissed out of hand. Of course,
final operation of the facility may be delayed thereby. But some delay is
inherent whenever the NEPA consideration is conducted — whether before
or at the license proceedings. It is far more consistent with the purposes of
the Act to delay operation at a stage where real environmental protection
may come about than at a stage where corrective action may be so costly
as to be impossible.
Thus we conclude that the Commission must go farther than it has in its
present rules. It must consider action, as well as file reports and papers, at
the pre-operating license stage. As the Commission candidly admits, such
consideration does not amount to a retroactive application of NEPA.
Although the projects in question may have been commenced and initially
approved before January 1, 1970, the Act clearly applies to them since they
must still pass muster before going into full operation.43 All we demand is
that the environmental review be as full and fruitful as possible.
VI
We hold that, in the four respects detailed above, the Commission must
revise its rules governing consideration of environmental issues. We do not
impose a harsh burden on the Commission. For we require only an exercise
of substantive discretion which will protect the environment "to the fullest
extent possible." No less is required if the grand congressional purposes
underlying NEPA are to become a reality.
Remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

33
APPENDIX

U.S. Supreme Court


Strycker's Bay Neighborhood Council v. Karlen, 444 U.S. 223 (1980)
Strycker's Bay Neighborhood Council, Inc. v. Karlen
No. 79-168
Decided January 7, 1980*
444 U.S. 223

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS


FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT
Syllabus
Held: The Court of Appeals erred in concluding that, when the Department
of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considered alternative sites
before redesignating a proposed site for middle-income housing as one for
low-income housing it should have given determinative weight to
environmental factors such as crowding low-income housing into a
concentrated area and should not have considered the delay that would
occur in developing an alternative site as an overriding factor. Once an
agency has made a decision subject to the procedural requirements of the
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the only role for a court is to
insure that the agency has considered the environmental consequences; it
cannot interject itself within the area of discretion of the executive as to
the choice of the action to be taken. Here, there is no doubt that HUD
considered the environmental consequences of its decision to redesignate
the proposed site for low-income housing, and the Act requires no more.
Certiorari granted; 590 F.2d 39, reversed.

PER CURIAM.

34
The protracted nature of this litigation is perhaps best illustrated by the
identity of the original federal defendant, "George Romney, Secretary of the
Department of Housing and Urban Development." At the center of this
dispute is the site of a proposed low-income housing project to be
constructed on Manhattan's Upper West Side. In 1962, the New York City
Planning Commission (Commission), acting in conjunction with the United
States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), began
formulating a
Page 444 U. S. 224
plan for the renewal of 20 square blocks known as the "West Side Urban
Renewal Area" (WSURA) through a joint effort on the part of private parties
and various government agencies. As originally written, the plan called for
a mix of 70% middle-income housing and 30% low-income housing and
designated the site at issue here as the location of one of the middle-
income projects. In 1969, after substantial progress toward completion of
the plan, local agencies in New York determined that the number of low-
income units proposed for WSURA would be insufficient to satisfy an
increased need for such units. In response to this shortage, the
Commission amended the plan to designate the site as the future location
of a high-rise building containing 160 units of low-income housing. HUD
approved this amendment in December, 1972.
Meanwhile, in October, 1971, the Trinity Episcopal School Corp. (Trinity),
which had participated in the plan by building a combination school and
middle-income housing development at a nearby location, sued in the
United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to enjoin
the Commission and HUD from constructing low-income housing on the
site. The present respondents, Roland N. Karlen, Alvin C. Hudgins, and the
Committee of Neighbors To Insure a Normal Urban Environment
(CONTINUE), intervened as plaintiffs, while petitioner Strycker's Bay
Neighborhood Council, Inc., intervened as a defendant.
The District Court entered judgment in favor of petitioners. See Trinity
Episcopal School Corp. v. Romney, 387 F.Supp. 1044 (1974). It concluded,
inter alia, that petitioners had not violated the National Environmental
Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 83 Stat. 852, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq.
On respondents' appeal, the Second Circuit affirmed all but the District
Court's treatment of the NEPA claim. See Trinity Episcopal School Corp. v.
Romney, 523 F.2d 88
Page 444 U. S. 225
(1975). While the Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court that HUD
was not required to prepare a full-scale environmental impact statement
under § 102(2)(C) of NEPA, 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C), it held hat HUD had not
complied with § 102(2)(E), [Footnote 1] which requires an agency to

35
"study, develop, and describe appropriate alternatives to recommended
courses of action in any proposal which involves unresolved conflicts
concerning alternative uses of available resources."
42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(E). See 523 F.2d at 995. According to the Court of
Appeals, any consideration by HUD of alternatives to placing low-income
housing on the site "was either highly limited or nonexistent." Id. at 94.
Citing the "background of urban environmental factors" behind HUD's
decision, the Court of Appeals remanded the case, requiring HUD to
prepare a "statement of possible alternatives, the consequences thereof
and the facts and reasons for and against. . . ." Ibid. The statement was not
to reflect "HUD's concept or the Housing Authority's views as to how these
agencies would choose to resolve the city's low income group housing
situation," but rather was to explain
"how, within the framework of the Plan, its objective of economic
integration can best be achieved with a minimum of adverse environmental
impact."
Ibid. The Court of Appeals believed that, given such an assessment of
alternatives, "the agencies with the cooperation of the interested parties
should be able to arrive at an equitable solution." Id. at 95.
On remand, HUD prepared a lengthy report entitled Special Environmental
Clearance (1977). After marshaling the data, the report asserted that,
"while the choice of Site 30 for development as a 100 percent low-income
project has raised
Page 444 U. S. 226
valid questions about the potential social environmental impacts involved,
the problems associated with the impact on social fabric and community
structures are not considered so serious as to require that this component
be rated as unacceptable."
Special Environmental Clearance Report 42. The last portion of the report
incorporated a study wherein the Commission evaluated nine alternative
locations for the project, and found none of them acceptable. While HUD's
report conceded that this study may not have considered all possible
alternatives, it credited the Commission's conclusion that any relocation of
the units would entail an unacceptable delay of two years or more.
According to HUD,
"[m]easured against the environmental costs associated with the minimum
two-year delay, the benefits seem insufficient to justify a mandated
substitution of sites."
Id. at 54.
After soliciting the parties' comments on HUD's report, the District Court
again entered judgment in favor of petitioners. See Trinity Episcopal School
Corp. v. Harris, 445 F.Supp. 204 (1978). The court was "impressed with

36
HUD's analysis as being thorough and exhaustive," id. at 209-210, and found
that "HUD's consideration of the alternatives was neither arbitrary nor
capricious"; on the contrary, "[i]t was done in good faith and in full
accordance with the law." Id. at 220.
On appal, the Second Circuit vacated and remanded again. Karlen v. Harris,
590 F.2d 39 (1978). The appellate court focused upon that part of HUD's
report where the agency considered and rejected alternative sites, and in
particular upon HUD's reliance on the delay such a relocation would entail.
The Court of Appeals purported to recognize that its role in reviewing HUD's
decision was defined by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. §
706(2)(A), which provides that agency actions should be set aside if found
to be "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in
accordance with law. . . ." Additionally,
Page 444 U. S. 227
however, the Court of Appeals looked to "[t]he provisions of NEPA" for "the
substantive standards necessary to review the merits of agency
decisions. . . ." 590 F.2d at 43. The Court of Appeals conceded that HUD had
"given consideration' to alternatives" to redesignating the site. Id. at 44.
Nevertheless, the court believed that "`consideration' is not an end in
itself." Ibid. Concentrating on HUD's finding that development of an
alternative location would entail an unacceptable delay, the appellate
court held that such delay could not be "an overriding factor" in HUD's
decision to proceed with the development. Ibid. According to the court,
when HUD considers such projects, "environmental factors, such as
crowding low-income housing into a concentrated area, should be given
determinative weight." Ibid. The Court of Appeals therefore remanded the
case to the District Court, instructing HUD to attack the shortage of low-
income housing in a manner that would avoid the "concentration" of such
housing on Site 30. Id. at 45. In Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v.
NRDC, 435 U. S. 519, 435 U. S. 558 (1978), we stated that NEPA, while
establishing "significant substantive goals for the Nation," imposes upon
agencies duties that are "essentially procedural." As we stressed in that
case, NEPA was designed "to insure a fully informed and well considered
decision," but not necessarily "a decision the judges of the Court of
Appeals or of this Court would have reached had they been members of the
decisionmaking unit of the agency." Ibid. Vermont Yankee cuts sharply
against the Court of Appeals' conclusion that an agency, in selecting a
course of action, must elevate environmental concerns over other
appropriate considerations. On the contrary, once an agency has made a
decision subject to NEPA's procedural requirements, the only role for a
court is to insure that the agency has considered the environmental

37
consequences; it cannot " 'interject itself within the area of discretion of
the executive as to the choice of the action to
Page 444 U. S. 228
be taken.'" Kleppe v. Sierra Club, 427 U. S. 390, 427 U. S. 410, n. 21 (1976).
See also FPC v. Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corp., 423 U. S. 326 (1976).
[Footnote 2]
In the present litigation, there is no doubt that HUD considered the
environmental consequences of its decision to redesignate the proposed
site for low-income housing. NEPA requires no more. The petitions for
certiorari are granted, and the judgment of the Court of Appeals is
therefore
Reversed.

* Together with No. 79-181, City of New York v. Karlen et al.; and No. 79-184,
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development v. Karlen et al., also on
petitions for certiorari to the same court.
[Footnote 1]
At the time of the Court of Appeals' decision, this section was numbered
102(2)(D) and was codified at 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(D) (1970 ed.). Congress
redesignated it two weeks later. See Act of Aug. 9, 1975, Pub.L. 94-83, 89
Stat. 424.
[Footnote 2]
If we could agree with the dissent that the Court of Appeals held that HUD
had acted "arbitrarily" in redesignating the site for low-income housing, we
might also agree that plenary review is warranted. But the District Court
expressly concluded that HUD had not acted arbitrarily or capriciously, and
our reading of the opinion of the Court of Appeals satisfies us that it did not
overturn that finding. Instead, the appellate court required HUD to elevate
environmental concerns over other, admittedly legitimate, considerations.
Neither NEPA nor the APA provides any support for such a reordering of
priorities by a reviewing court.
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, dissenting.
The issue raised by these cases is far more difficult than the per curiam
opinion suggests. The Court of Appeals held that the Secretary of Housing
and Urban Development (HUD) had acted arbitrarily in concluding that
prevention of a delay in the construction process justified the selection of a
housing site which could produce adverse social environmental effects,
including racial and economic concentration. Today the majority responds
that,
"once an agency has made a decision subject to NEPA's procedural
requirements, the only role for a court is to insure that the agency has
considered the environmental consequences,"

38
and that, in this litigation,
"there is no doubt that HUD considered the environmental consequences of
its decision to redesignate the proposed site for low-income housing. NEPA
requires no more."
The majority finds support for this conclusion in the closing paragraph
Page 444 U. S. 229
of our decision in Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. NRDC, 435 U. S.
519, 435 U. S. 558 (1978).
Vermont Yankee does not stand for the broad proposition that the majority
advances today. The relevant passage in that opinion was meant to be only
a "further observation of some relevance to this case," id. at 435 U. S. 557.
That "observation" was a response to this Court's perception that the Court
of Appeals in that case was attempting, "under the guise of judicial review
of agency action," to assert its own policy judgment as to the desirability of
developing nuclear energy as an energy source for this Nation, a judgment
which is properly left to Congress. Id. at 435 U. S. 558. The Court of Appeals
had remanded the case to the agency because of "a single alleged
oversight on a peripheral issue, urged by parties who never fully
cooperated or indeed raised the issue below," ibid. It was in this context
that the Court remarked that "NEPA does set forth significant substantive
goals for the Nation, but its mandate to the agencies is essentially
procedural." Ibid. (emphasis supplied). Accordingly,
"[a]dministrative decisions should be set aside in this context, as in every
other, only for substantial procedural or substantive reasons as mandated
by statute,"
ibid. (emphasis supplied). Thus, Vermont Yankee does not stand for the
proposition that a court reviewing agency action under NEPA is limited
solely to the factual issue of whether the agency "considered"
environmental consequences. The agency's decision must still be set aside
if it is "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in
accordance with law," 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A), and the reviewing court must
still insure that the agency "has taken a hard look' at environmental
consequences," Kleppe v. Sierra Club, 427 U. S. 390, 427 U. S. 410, n. 21
(1976).
In the present case, the Court of Appeals did not "substitute its judgment
for that of the agency as to the environmental consequences of its
actions," ibid., for HUD, in its
Page 444 U. S. 230
Special Environmental Clearance Report, acknowledged the adverse
environmental consequences of its proposed action:

39
"the choice of Site 30 for development as a 100 percent low-income project
has raised valid questions about the potential social environmental impacts
involved."
These valid questions arise from the fact that 68% of all public housing
units would be sited on only one cross-town axis in this area of New York
City. As the Court of Appeals observed, the resulting high concentration of
low-income housing would hardly further racial and economic integration.
The environmental "impact . . . on social fabric and community structures"
was given a B rating in the report, indicating that, from this perspective,
the project is "questionable" and ameliorative measures are "mandated."
The report lists 10 ameliorative measures necessary to make the project
acceptable. The report also discusses two alternatives, Sites 9 and 41,
both of which are the appropriate size for the project and require "only
minimal" amounts of relocation and clearance. Concerning Site 9, the
report explicitly concludes that "[f]rom the standpoint of social
environmental impact, this location would be superior to Site 30 for the
development of low-rent public housing." The sole reason for rejecting the
environmentally superior site was the fact that, if the location were shifted
to Site 9, there would be a projected delay of two years in the construction
of the housing.
The issue before the Court of Appeals, therefore, was whether HUD was
free under NEPA to reject an alternative acknowledged to be
environmentally preferable solely on the ground that any change in sites
would cause delay. This was hardly a "peripheral issue" in the case.
Whether NEPA, which sets forth "significant substantive goals," Vermont
Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. NRDC, supra at 435 U. S. 558, permits a
projected 2-year time difference to be controlling over environmental
superiority is by no means clear. Resolution of the issue, however, is
certainly within the normal scope of review of agency action to determine
if it is arbitrary,
Page 444 U. S. 231
capricious, or an abuse of discretion.* The question whether HUD can make
delay the paramount concern over environmental superiority is essentially
a restatement of the question whether HUD in considering the
environmental consequences of its proposed action gave those
consequences a "hard look," which is exactly the proper question for the
reviewing court to ask. Kleppe v. Sierra Club, supra at 427 U. S. 410, n. 21.
The issue of whether the Secretary's decision was arbitrary or capricious is
sufficiently difficult and important to merit plenary consideration in this
Court. Further, I do not subscribe to the Court's apparent suggestion that
Vermont Yankee limits the reviewing court to the essentially mindless task
of determining whether an agency "considered" environmental factors even

40
if that agency may have effectively decided to ignore those factors in
reaching its conclusion. Indeed, I cannot believe that the Court would
adhere to that position in a different factual setting. Our cases establish
that the "arbitrary or capricious" standard prescribes a "searching and
careful" judicial inquiry designed to ensure that the agency has not
exercised its discretion in an unreasonable manner. Citizens To Preserve
Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U. S. 402, 401 U. S. 416 (1971). Believing
that today's summary reversal represents a departure from that principle, I
respectfully dissent.
It is apparent to me that this is not the type of case for a summary
disposition. We should at least have a plenary hearing.
* The Secretary concedes that, if an agency gave little or no weight to
environmental values, its decision might be arbitrary or capricious. Pet. for
Cert. in No. 7184, p. 15, n. 16.

41