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Natural Resources Defense Council v. Watkins

ELR Citation: 22 ELR 20368
Nos. No. 91-2655, 954 F.2d 974/34 ERC 1514/(4th Cir., 01/23/1992)

The court holds that the district court erred in holding that environmental groups lack standing in their Federal Water Pollution Control Act citizen suit challenging the Department of Energy's (DOE's) proposed reopening of a nuclear reactor at the Savannah River site in South Carolina. The reactor is one of three reactors that are the nation's only source of tritium. The three reactors, all located at the Savannah River site, have been closed since April 1988. Plaintiffs' suit alleges that the operation of the reactor without a cooling tower, which is now under construction, will irreparably damage wetlands around the reactor. The court holds that the district court erroneously concluded that affidavits submitted by the environmental group's members did not allege with sufficient specificity that the affiants used portions of the river affected by the reactor discharge. The court holds that if harmful pollution from the reactor discharge can be shown in publicly accessible portions of the river basin, the affidavits are sufficient to establish standing for the environmental groups. The court holds that the district court also improperly denied standing on the ground that the environmental harm caused by the reactor discharge is confined to the site, from which public access is restricted. The affidavits create a factual issue regarding the potential for harm to wetlands outside the restricted site. However, the court holds that the environmental groups are not entitled to a preliminary injunction. Although DOE would suffer negligible harm from issuance of an injunction, the environmental groups failed to show a substantial likelihood of environmental damage outside the boundaries of the site.

Counsel for Appellants
James F. Simon, Dan W. Reicher, Nancy S. Marks
Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.
40 W. 20th St., New York NY 10011
(212) 727-2700

Counsel for Appellees
Ronald M. Spritzer, Scott A. Schachter
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000