On September 27, the NRC held a public meeting where it invited speakers to present on their experience with environmental justice (EJ) issues and also to hear recommendations on the agency’s approach when reevaluating how to address EJ. At the outset of the meeting, the NRC defined EJ as “the federal policy established in 1994 by Executive Order (EO) 12898, which directed federal agencies to identify and address disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority and low-income populations.”
Back in July, the NRC began its review of environmental justice policies within its programs and activities with a meeting and a solicitation for comments (for which the comment period has been extended until October 29, 2021) regarding the 2004 Policy Statement on the Treatment of Environmental Justice Matters in NRC Regulatory and Licensing Actions and other EJ efforts. Now it is going beyond written comments and looking to facilitate conversations with those most impacted by EJ issues and those with the greatest experience grappling with the topic.
The meeting consisted of two parts.
Part 1 was a listening session with representatives with stakeholders from various environmental, indigenous, and community groups. During the listening session, presenters discussed the need for the NRC to modernize the way it addresses EJ and to consider EJ beyond what’s required in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA currently requires that major projects undergo an environmental analysis, either in the form of an Environmental Impact Statement, or an Environmental Assessment. The environmental analysis includes an assessment for EJ and the abovementioned 2004 Policy Statement, which is currently under review, developed a framework for EJ consideration at the NRC. For more information on the NRC EJ actions thus far, please visit our previous blog, NRC Solicits Comments on Environmental Justice.
The invited speakers also discussed the need to include people of color in the nuclear field. They remarked that the industry lacks diversity and that there should be a deliberate attempt to work in partnership with communities most impacted by nuclear. Representatives of indigenous people asked that NRC grant them an equal seat at the table. They highlighted that tribal nations are recognized by the U.S. as sovereign nations, and as such, should be included in EJ discussions by the NRC.
Part 2 was a panel discussion with industry, government entities, and indigenous/community development groups. Speakers included those from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Multiple panelists suggested that NRC establish a separate group, like an advisory committee, to facilitate involvement with indigenous communities and communities of color. These panelists felt that it is unreasonable to limit EJ to the NEPA review, which they believed does not properly measure impacts on communities.
Speakers from indigenous communities also asked that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, while not a binding piece of law, be reviewed and taken into account when making determinations regarding EJ. The panelist from the EPA suggested that EJ be a central consideration of the NRC, and not just an afterthought. However, it may take some time before a robust EJ program is developed if this is the route the NRC takes. The EPA panelist discussed that while for decades the EPA had policies and procedures for EJ, it is still working on understanding how to engage impacted communities and demonstrate accountability. The panelist from NEI remarked that EJ should not be limited to NRC considerations—industry has a responsibility as well to commit its resources to the effort.
What happens next?
Pursuant to the April 23rd “Staff Requirements” memorandum, NRC staff will use the information gathered at the meeting to develop recommendations to the Commission. The NRC will be reviewing EJ within the scope of the following goals:
- Evaluate recent Executive Orders and assess whether EJ is appropriately considered and addressed given the agency’s mission.
- Consider the practices of other Federal and State agencies and Tribal governments, and evaluate whether the NRC should incorporate EJ beyond implementation through NEPA.
- Review the adequacy of the 2004 Commission Policy Statement.
- Consider whether establishing formal mechanisms to gather external stakeholder input would benefit any future EJ efforts.
This information-gathering session is part of the NRC Environmental Justice Review Team’s efforts to assess the quality of EJ programs at the agency. The team will report its findings to the Commission by February 2022.