By Laura Barron-Lopez - 11/19/13 02:39 PM EST
A federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered the Energy Department to halt the collection of roughly $750 million a year in nuclear waste storage fees from utilities.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the Obama administration put itself in a "catch-22" and failed to provide a good reason for why the money should be collected.
The fees, which were directed to a nuclear waste fund, were meant to cover the cost of storing waste at the proposed Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada.
The administration has said it does not plan to pursue the Yucca Mountain proposal. Because of that, the court ruled it is unreasonable for the Department of Energy to use Yucca as an estimate of disposal costs, nor can the department use a hypothetical facility.
In an opinion by Senior Judge Laurence Silberman, the court said the DOE must send a proposal to Congress to change the nuclear waste fee to zero — a clear win for the utilities.
“Today’s decision from the court is great news for consumers of nuclear power," Charles Gray, executive director of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, said in a statement.
"These consumers have upheld their end of the deal, but unfortunately all they have to show for their investment is a hole in the Nevada desert.
"Putting aside the political dispute about the proposed Yucca Mountain facility, nuclear-power ratepayers should not be charged for a program the federal government has closed down," Gray said.
So far, nuclear operators have paid more than $27 billion throughout the years to cover expenses of long-term storage and disposal of nuclear waste from the 100 commercial nuclear reactors across the U.S.
The DOE is reviewing the court's opinion, a department representative told The Hill.