Calvert Cliffs Coordinating Committee v. United States Atomic Energy Commission
449 F.2d 1109 (D.C. Cir. 1971)

  • The US AEC (forerunner of the Department of Energy) was encouraging utilities to build nuclear power plants. Baltimore Gas and Electric decided to build one in rural Maryland.
  • Two years after construction began, the Federal government passed the National Environmental Policy Act (aka NEPA) 42 U.S.C. 4321-4370.
    • NEPA 102(2)(C) requires preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
  • AEC issued a regulation requiring permit applicants to prepare EISs. However, they felt that they did not have to consider the conclusions of the report unless parties raised specific challenges to it during the licensing process.
    • Basically, AEC was treating the EIS as just more paperwork. The EIS needed to be prepared and filed, but it was not considered within AEC's licensing board process to decide whether to issue a permit or not.
      • No one at AEC would look at the EIS unless an environmental issue was raised by a party to the proceeding.
    • Technically, NEPA only requires you to consider the likely environmental effects of your activities. It doesn't say what you should do once you've considered the problem.
  • A local environmental group (CCCC) sued AEC, arguing that AEC's regulations violated NEPA because they did not require AEC to independently assess environmental impacts.
  • The Appellate Court found for CCCC and remanded back to AEC for further rulemaking to improve their regulations.
    • The Appellate Court noted that NEPA 102(2)(E) requires that all Federal agencies must considered NEPA "to the fullest extent possible."
    • The Appellate Court found that compliance "to the fullest extent possible" demands that environmental issues be considered at every important stage of the decision-making process.
      • The preparation of the EIS must be more than simply a pro forma ritual.
    • Therefore, the Appellate Court found that AEC procedural rules did not comply with Congressional policy as enunciated in NEPA.
  • This case established that NEPA has judicially enforceable duties.
    • At this point, NEPA was new, and the concept that individual people could use it to get the judiciary to tell the executive branch what to do was a pretty radical idea.