Note: This version focuses on the "Environmental Law" aspects of this case, if you are more interested in the "Administrative Law" aspect, look at this version instead.

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. Natural Resources Defense Council
435 U.S. 519 (1978)

  • The US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was in the process of licensing a nuclear power plant in Vermont.
    • Under the licensing procedures, AEC prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
      • The EIS considered other energy-generating power plants as alternatives to building the nuclear power plant and found the nuclear plant to be the most environmentally friendly.
      • To be compliant with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), an EIS must consider alternatives to the proposed action.
  • The National Resources Defense Council NDRC sued to stop the licensing.
    • NDRC argued that the EIS was not sufficient because it failed to consider energy conservation as an alternative to building the nuclear plant.
  • The Appellate Court found for NDRC.  AEC appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that the EIS was not adequate because it did not consider all the alternatives.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and found the original EIS to meet the statutory requirements of NEPA.
    • The US Supreme Court found that, as long as the agency considered some alternatives, NEPA is met even if you don't consider every possibility.
      • The Court said, "Common sense teaches us that the detailed statement of alternatives cannot be found wanting simply because the agency failed to include every alternative device and thought conceivable to man."
      • The Court suggested that alternatives change over time and which ones an agency must consider are based on how well understood the alternatives are at the time the EIS is written.
    • Basically, the Court said that it is within the discretion of an individual agency how they interpret NEPA requirements.
    • The Court went on to say that although NEPA has substantive goals, the judicially reviewable duties that are imposed on the agencies are essentially procedural.
      • Basically, the Court can only look to see if procedure has been followed, they cannot review substantive decisions the agency makes.