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
NDRC argued that the EIS was not sufficient because it
failed to consider energy conservation as an alternative to building the
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
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