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Up & Atom

The NRC held a public meeting on October 21 to discuss the status of its evaluation of environmental justice (EJ) in its programs, policies, and activities.

During the meeting, the NRC reviewed recent EJ efforts and feedback received to date, solicited additional comments from the public on their experiences with EJ issues, and sought further recommendations for its evaluation process.

The NRC will accept comments until October 29, 2021, and the EJ team is scheduled to report its findings to the Commission by February 2022.

Background

In April 2021, the Commission directed the NRC staff via a Requirements Memorandum to evaluate EJ within the scope of the following:

  • Recent executive orders (EOs) to assess whether the NRC appropriately considers EJ in view of its mission
  • The practices of other US federal and state agencies as well as Tribal governments to evaluate whether the NRC should incorporate EJ beyond implementation through the National Environmental Policy Act
  • The Commission's 2004 Policy Statement on EJ to gauge whether the NRC’s approach reflects current EJ concepts 
  • External stakeholder input and whether establishing formal mechanisms to gather input would benefit EJ efforts in the future

The NRC's EJ team on July 15 held two public meetings by webinar to provide an overview of its review process and receive public comments. During those meetings, public comments broadly focused on the following:

  • Current barriers to public engagement such as the NRC's reliance on IT for notices and public meetings
  • Lack of broadband internet access for many in EJ communities
  • Inconsistent/lack of easily understandable communications from the NRC

Current Lay of the Land

Thursday's meeting consisted of two parts and was led by Jessica Bielecki, deputy director of the NRC’s EJ team; and Allen Fetter, the team's project manager.

During the first portion of the meeting, the speakers broadly discussed the NRC’s takeaways from the EJ process to date, and the current subjects receiving closer NRC attention: 

  • Consideration of EOs issued since EO 12898 such as EO 13985 (Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government); EO 13990 (Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis); and EO 14008 (Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad), which generally call for closer scrutiny of EJ, climate change, and equity issues
  • Expansion of justice concepts to incorporate more than Census data tools—because the tools themselves might not accurately reflect communities' social, economic, and racial makeup
  • Assessment of Tribal engagement earlier in the licensing process 
  • Evaluation of racial discrimination in siting and environmental racism in evaluating licensing actions

The second part of the meeting allowed commenters to voice additional recommendations.

Though opinions were strong, commenters broadly focused on the economic relationship between EJ communities and nuclear facilities; the need for more precise definitions and qualifiers regarding "engagement," "implementation," and "advisory bodies"; the importance of both a prospective and a retrospective view of EJ; and the need for NRC accountability to dispel myths and untruths surrounding nuclear energy and its legacy.

Looking Ahead

The NRC will continue its comment-gathering until October 29, 2021, and the EJ team is scheduled to report its findings to the Commission by February 2022. As the NRC closely scrutinizes its policies, it may signal a shift in the coming months related to its implementation and consideration of EJ.

For more information, please contact the authors of this post.