Appellate Practice

A Federal Appeals Court's Nuclear Opinion Takes Lawyers to Task for Acronyms


A federal appeals court is fed up with little-known energy acronyms like “SNF” and “NWPA.”

In a ruling (PDF) last week , the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit showed its irritation in its first footnote, according to The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times. The case involved a challenge to nuclear waste fees for a site to replace Yucca Mountain that has not yet been planned or built. Senior Judge Laurence Silberman wrote the opinion.

The footnote cites George Orwell and the court’s Handbook of Practice and Internal Procedures, which urges parties to avoid little-known acronyms. “Brief-writing, no less than ‘written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble,’ ” the brief says, attributing the quote to Orwell.

“Here, both parties abandoned any attempt to write in plain English, instead abbreviating every conceivable agency and statute involved, familiar or not, and littering their briefs with references to ‘SNF,’ ‘HLW,’ ‘NWF,’ ‘NWPA,’ and ‘BRC’—shorthand for ‘spent nuclear fuel,’ ‘highlevel radioactive waste,’ the ‘Nuclear Waste Fund,’ the ‘Nuclear Waste Policy Act,’ and the ‘Blue Ribbon Commission.’ “

The court also displayed its irritation with government arguments that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act allows Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to decline to re-evaluate the fee structure, absent information questioning the policy. “Plain language utterly destroys the Secretary’s claim that he can remain entirely passive and only act if some deus ex machina were to bring him information,” the opinion said.

Chu has six months to develop a better rationale to justify the rate structure, according to The BLT.

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