WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was “flouting the law” when it stopped work on a review of the proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, despite the Obama administration’s insistence that the site be shut down. The 2-to-1 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit allows an increment of progress that could help push the project forward and was embraced by supporters of the Yucca site, the focus of a quarter-century-old fight.

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was “flouting the law” when it stopped work on a review of the proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, despite the Obama administration’s insistence that the site be shut down. 

The 2-to-1 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit allows an increment of progress that could help push the project forward and was embraced by supporters of the Yucca site, the focus of a quarter-century-old fight.

In a strongly worded opinion, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote that “the president may not decline to follow a statutory mandate or prohibition simply because of policy objections.”

Judge Kavanaugh, who was largely supported by a second judge in the three-member panel, A. Raymond Randolph, added that “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.”

Congress chose Yucca, a volcanic ridge, as a nuclear waste site in the 1980s, over the objections of the State of Nevada. President Obama, while still a candidate for president, promised to scuttle it.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader and a longtime opponent of the site, has in recent years prevented Congress from appropriating money for the project. But $11 million for review of the site remains on hand from earlier years, which Judge Kavanaugh said by law must be spent.

“Congress speaks through the laws it enacts,” Judge Kavanaugh wrote. “No law states that the commission should decline to spend previously appropriated funds.”

Source: Matthew Wald | New York Times