Brief Fact Summary. The Supreme Court of the United States held that a California law imposing a suspension on the certification of nuclear energy plants within the state until the Defendant, State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, approves of the means for disposal of the waste was not preempted by the federal Atomic Energy Act of 1954.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The doctrine of preemption allows Congress to preempt state power to regulate in three ways: 1) by express statement; 2) by implied occupation of a regulatory field; or 3) by implied preclusion of conflicting state regulations. Where there are two different evils being addressed by the state and Congress, there is no preemption of state power.
Issue. Whether the California statute falls within the field which the federal government has preserved for its own exclusive control because it regulates construction of nuclear plants and because it is allegedly predicated on safety concerns.
Whether the California statute conflicts with decisions made by Congress and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
Whether the California statute frustrates the federal goal of developing nuclear technology as a source of energy.
Held. No. Judgment of the Court of Appeals affirmed. In passing AEA and its subsequent amendments, Congress intended that the federal government should regulate the radiological safety aspects involved in the construction and operation of a nuclear plant, but the states retain their traditional responsibility in the field of regulating electrical utilities for state concerns. Congress legislated here in a field traditionally occupied by the states so we start with assumption that the historic police powers of the states were not to be superseded by the Federal Act unless that act was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress. California’s economic purpose for enacting the law lies outside of Congress’ occupied field of nuclear safety regulation.
No. Judgment of the Court of Appeals affirmed. Compliance with both the NRC and the state statute is possible. Further, because NRC’s regulations are aimed at insuring that plants are safe rather than economical, the California law does not interfere with the objective of the federal regulation.
No. Judgment of the Court of Appeals affirmed. Congress has allowed states to determine, as a matter of economics, whether a nuclear plant should be built. Thus, Congress has left sufficient authority in the states to allow the development of nuclear power to be slowed or stopped for economic reasons.
Concurrence. Since the Court finds that California is not motivated by concerns of safety, this suggestion is unnecessary to the Court’s holding.
A state law may not frustrate the operation of federal law even if the state legislature in passing its law had some purpose in mind other than one of frustration.View Full Point of Law