Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Metropolitan Edison Co. v. People Against Nuclear Energy

ELR Citation: 13 ELR 20515
Nos. No. 81-2399, 460 U.S. 766/18 ERC 1985/(U.S., 04/19/1983) Rev'd

The Supreme Court, reversing the D.C. Circuit, 12 ELR 20546, rules that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) does not require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to consider the potential psychological harm to local residents before authorizing the resumption of power generation at the sister unit to the damaged Three Mile Island nuclear reactor. The Court finds that NEPA's sweeping goals to enhance human health and welfare are ends that Congress chose to pursue by means of protecting the physical environment. NEPA requires a reasonably close causal relationship between a change in the physical environment and the effect at issue. Although the Court agrees that human health is cognizable under NEPA and that human health includes psychological health, agencies need only consider such effects when caused by federally induced changes in the physical environment. The Court rules that the risk of nuclear accident is not an effect on the physical environment and thus NEPA does not apply to any resulting damage to psychological health. In addition, it is unreasonably difficult for agencies to distinguish between disagreement with governmental policies that cause severe anxiety and stress and "genuine" claims of psychological health damage. The D.C. Circuit erred in concluding that the unusual severity of the psychological impacts of Three Mile Island made a distinction possible, because the key question is whether the impacts are environmental in nature, not how serious they may be. Moreover, NEPA does not address past effects of past federal actions, only future effects of future actions. Finally, the Court rules that since there were no environmental effects requiring NEPA consideration, the agency was not required to consider secondary community effects

Counsel for Petitioners
Paul M. Bator, Joshua I. Schwartz; Louis F. Claiborne, Deputy Solicitor General
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2201

James M. Spears, Richard J. Lazarus, Jacques B. Gelin
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2756

Leonard Bickwit Jr., General Counsel; Martin G. Malsch, Peter G. Crane
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington DC 20555
(202) 634-3288

James B. Liberman
Debevoise & Liberman
1200 17th St. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 857-9800

James B. Hamlin, George F. Trowbridge, John B. Rhinelander, Deborah B. Bauser
Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge
1800 M St. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 822-1000

Counsel for Respondent
William S. Jordan III, Gail M. Harmon, Lee L. Bishop, Diane Curran
Harmon & Weiss
1725 I St. NW, Washington DC 20006
(202) 833-9070