The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been violating federal law by delaying a decision on a proposed nuclear waste dump in Nevada, a court ruled Tuesday.
By a 2-1 vote, the U.S. Circuit 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 waste site at Yucca Mountain.
In a sharply worded opinion, the court said the NRC was “simply flouting the law” when it allowed the Obama administration to continue plans to close the proposed waste site 90 miles from Las Vegas.
The action violates a 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 the majority opinion, which was joined by Judge A. Raymond Randolph. Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland dissented.
“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.
An NRC spokesman said Tuesday that the agency was reviewing the decision.
The decision was hailed by supporters of the Yucca site, which has been the focus of a dispute that stretches more than three decades. The government has spent $15 billion on the site but has never completed it. No waste is stored there.
South Carolina and Washington state filed a lawsuit seeking to force the NRC to rule on the Yucca Mountain application. The states have large nuclear waste sites that would use the Yucca repository.
Under pressure from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., the administration abandoned the project early in the president’s first term.
Reid called the court decision “fairly meaningless.” Congress has cut funding for Yucca and is unlikely to restore it, Reid said. The site has drawn nearly unanimous opposition from Nevada elected officials.