WASHINGTON (AP) — In a rebuke to the Obama administration, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been violating federal law by delaying a decision on a proposed nuclear waste dump in Nevada.
By a 2-1 vote, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered the commission to complete the licensing process and approve or reject the Energy Department’s application for a never-completed waste storage site at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.
In a sharply worded opinion, the court said the nuclear agency was “simply flouting the law” when it allowed the Obama administration to continue plans to close the proposed waste site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The action goes against a federal law designating Yucca Mountain as the nation’s nuclear waste repository.
“The president may not decline to follow a statutory mandate or prohibition simply because of policy objections,” Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote in a majority opinion, which was joined Judge A. Raymond Randolph. Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland dissented.
The appeals court said the case has important implications for the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government.
“It is no overstatement to say that our constitutional system of separation of powers would be significantly altered if we were to allow executive and independent agencies to disregard federal law in the manner asserted in this case by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” Kavanaugh wrote. “The commission is simply defying a law enacted by Congress … without any legal basis.”