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Public Citizen v. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

This case was filed by Public Citizen and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) to challenge a rule issued in January 2004 by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The new rule abolished formal on-the-record hearings in most nuclear reactor licensing proceedings, making it more difficult for the public to effectively raise legitimate safety concerns. The case challenged the rule under the Administrative Procedure Act, arguing that Congress intended that the Atomic Energy Act guarantee formal hearing rights to members of the public whose interests might be affected by the NRC’s licensing of nuclear reactors.

Although the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the NRC’s new rule, the agency was forced to make concessions regarding the scope of the rule, and the court held that “should the agency’s administration of the new rules contradict its present representations or otherwise flout this principle [of full and true disclosure of the facts], nothing in this opinion will inoculate the rules against future challenges.” The court upheld the NRC’s ability to limit discovery and cross-examination, but rejected the idea that those procedures can be eliminated, saying that “the Commission’s new rules may approach the outer bounds of what is permissible” under the Administrative Procedures Act.