Policy: Environment & Energy

Court orders Obama to decide on Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site

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Steve Contorno,Barack Obama,Energy Department,PennAve,NRC,Energy and Environment,Nevada

A federal appellate court on Tuesday ordered the Obama administration to stop stalling its review of a nuclear waste facility at Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission “is simply flouting the law” in failing to make a final ruling on a Department of Energy application to store nuclear waste at the Nevada site. The court ordered the commission to act.

A review of the site was supposed to be completed by 2011, three years after the initial application was filed, but the commission has not acted since then. Republicans have characterized the dispute as another example of how the executive branch under President Obama has ignored the will of Congress.

"The president may not decline to follow a statutory mandate or prohibition simply because of policy objections,” the court wrote in its consenting opinion.

The court ruling was expected. The same court last year pushed the commission to make a decision unless Congress decided to cancel funding for a review of the application, which it did not do.

The request for court intervention came from Washington state and South Carolina, which are currently forced to hold onto nuclear waste until a long-term storage site is approved.

"The court rightly rebuked the Obama administration for delaying a decision on this important national security matter,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “Yucca Mountain remains the appropriate nuclear waste storage site.”

The nuclear commission has blamed a lack of funding for the delay. The $11 million Congress approved to study the project was only a fraction of the $100 million needed to complete the review.

In a dissenting opinion, Chief Judge Merrick Garland said it was pointless to order the commission to move forward if it didn't have enough money to finish the task.

Given the limited funds that remain available,” he wrote, “issuing a writ of mandamus amounts to little more than ordering the commission to spend part of those funds unpacking its boxes, and the remainder packing them up again.”

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