Supreme Court climate decision could affect nuclear waste case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on climate change could have ramifications for a number of other issues, including a case involving nuclear waste storage and a proposal to require companies to disclose how climate risk affects their businesses, say supporters across the political spectrum.

Two Republican attorneys general — including the West Virginia official who successfully challenged Environmental Protection Agency rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants — say the Supreme Court ruling applies more broadly to other executive branch actions. And in at least one case, environmental groups seem to agree.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says the court’s June 30 ruling, which limited how the nation’s main air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, may used to block a federal permit issued to a private radioactive waste storage facility in his state.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who has won the climate case, says he will challenge the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposal to require companies to report their climate risks, including those related to the natural effects of storms. of drought and higher temperatures caused by global warming.

The court’s 6-3 decision said the EPA violated the “major questions” doctrine in regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The decision held that Congress must speak precisely when it wants to give an agency power to regulate a matter of major national importance.

Several conservative justices criticized what they see as the unchecked power of federal agencies.

Some legal experts suggested the Supreme Court’s ruling may also refer to a challenge to President Joe Biden’s announcement last week that the government would provide $10,000 in student debt relief for millions of Americans — and up to $10,000 more for those with the greater financial needs.

In the Texas case, Paxton argued in court shortly after the Supreme Court ruled that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission did not have a specific directive from Congress when it gave permission to a private company to temporarily store spent radioactive waste in west Texas near the U.S. border. New Mexico.

The court’s ruling in West Virginia v. EPA “confirms that this case implicates the grand questions doctrine,” Paxton’s office said in a letter to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is hearing the state’s challenge to the nuclear case.

In a political twist, environmental groups opposed to the landfill plan also cited the Supreme Court ruling.

“No federal agency is above the law,” said Diane Curran, an attorney with Beyond Nuclear, an advocacy group that opposes nuclear power.

The group argues in a separate case before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that a permit issued to Texas-based Interim Storage Partners to store thousands of metric tons of spent nuclear fuel for up to 40 years is invalid because it “ignored the clear orders of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act” to store nuclear waste at a now-abandoned site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

“Only Congress can decide whether to abandon one of its primary strategies to ensure the completion of a federal repository” for nuclear waste, Curran said.

Like Paxton and Morrisey, Curran said federal agencies appear to be exceeding their powers granted by Congress.

“I think there are policy issues here that are huge,” she said in an interview. “It’s troubling that the NRC has put its oar in a political decision that belongs to Congress,” namely where to store nuclear waste.

Wallace Taylor, an attorney who represents the Sierra Club on nuclear issues, said he appreciates the irony that environmental groups are siding with staunch conservatives like Paxton and Morrisey in the nuclear controversy.

“My enemy is my friend” when interests coincide, he said with a laugh.

“It’s certainly an important question,” Taylor added, referring to nuclear waste storage. “Tens of thousands of tons of nuclear waste” need to be disposed of “and there is no authority in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act for a temporary storage permit,” he said. “All they can permit is a permanent repository” at Yucca Mountain, a project that has been mothballed for more than a decade and faces strong bipartisan opposition.

The NRC, in a legal filing in the 5th Circuit case, said the Texas permit is not an example of overreach because the agency has “long-standing” authority on the matter, including under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.

“The material permit issued here reflects a contractual exercise of the NRC’s longstanding and exclusive authority over a subject that is at the core of its expertise,” the agency wrote.

Congress has “clearly and expressly” granted the NRC the authority to license off-site nuclear fuel storage facilities, including under the 1954 Act, the agency added.

An NRC spokesman declined to comment, referring a reporter to the legal filing.

In official comments filed with the SEC, meanwhile, 21 Republican attorneys general led by Morrisey argue that the agency is trying to transform itself from the federal securities watchdog “to a regulator of broader societal ills,” including climate change

“The awakened left is full throttle on their mission to change every aspect of American life, business, and erode our democratic institutions to suit their liberal agenda,” Morrisey said. “The Biden administration wants to fundamentally transform the SEC and other agencies run by unelected bureaucrats and make them champions of climate change, regardless of what those agencies’ functions are.”

Biden, he added, is “creating a federal bureaucracy that fits his agenda.”

An SEC spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

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