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The NRC Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) recently issued Revision 4 to Office Instruction LIC-203, “Procedural Guidance for Categorical Exclusions, Environmental Assessments, and Considering Environmental Issues.” The update reflects recent NRC organizational changes and internal procedures related to the agency’s environmental review activities. These changes do not impose any new obligations on NRC applicants. However, a proper understanding of the agency’s internal processes can be helpful in developing successful licensing strategies. The key changes are summarized below.

Functioning critical infrastructure is crucial during the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency for public health and safety reasons. And as noted in the Coronavirus Guidelines for America issued on March 16, US President Donald Trump has recommended that workers in critical infrastructure industries have a “special responsibility” to maintain normal work schedules. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on March 19 issued guidance on defining the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce. That guidance explicitly discusses workers in the nuclear and electric industries.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ordered PJM Interconnection, LLC’s (PJM) on July 25 to suspend its 2019 Base Residual Auction (BRA), which provides for capacity payments to electric generators. FERC found that delaying the auction until FERC establishes a replacement rate would provide greater certainty to the market than conducting the auction under the existing rules.

This is the second time that the 2019 BRA, which provides for capacity payments for 2022–2023, has been delayed. PJM originally planned to run the auction in May, but delayed it based on a prior FERC order. FERC’s July 25 order delays the 2019 BRA until FERC establishes a replacement rate.

Read FERC’s order.

The Ohio House of Representatives approved HB 6 on July 23, providing up to $150 million in financial support for the two operating nuclear plants in the state. A version of the House bill was passed by the Ohio Senate last week, and Governor Mike DeWine signed the bill into law shortly after the legislation passed the House.

Read the full text of HB 6 >>

The US Supreme Court issued its decision on June 17 in the case of Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren. The Court affirmed the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which held that the Atomic Energy Act does not preempt Virginia’s statutory prohibition on uranium mining. This decision is important to the nuclear industry because it considers the extent to which state and local governments may insert themselves into the field of radiological safety by enacting “bottleneck” laws purporting to regulate antecedent activities.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) approved applications submitted by PSEG Nuclear LLC seeking subsidies of up to $300 million annually, in the form of zero emission credits (ZECs), for PSEG’s Hope Creek and Salem 1 and 2 nuclear generating stations on April 18. The PSEG applications were filed on December 19, 2018, after New Jersey enacted legislation on May 23, 2018, establishing a ZEC program for the state (the ZEC Act).

The NRC, with the approval of the US attorney general, recently published a second revision to its guidelines on the use of weapons by licensee security personnel whose official duties include the protection of designated facilities, certain radioactive material or other licensee property, and licensee material or property that is being transported to or from a licensee facility. The changes were made to ensure consistency with existing FBI procedures on appeals of background check delays or denials. The updated guidelines were published in the Federal Register on March 8, 2019, and took effect the same day.

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on September 27 affirmed a decision of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissing a complaint seeking to invalidate New York’s Zero Emissions Credit (ZEC) program. This decision comes on the heels of a Seventh Circuit decision affirming the validity of a similar ZEC program in Illinois. In its opinion, the Second Circuit noted that its conclusions accorded with the Seventh Circuit’s decision, which we wrote about in an earlier post.

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on September 13 affirmed a decision of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois that dismissed two complaints seeking to invalidate the Illinois Zero Emission Credits (ZEC) program.

The Illinois ZEC program was created in 2016 as part of the Future Energy Jobs Act. A ZEC is a credit that represents the environmental attribute of one megawatt hour of energy produced from an eligible zero-emission facility as defined by the statute. The Illinois Power Agency confers ZECs to eligible facilities generating zero-emission power and requires utilities to purchase those ZECs. The act set an initial price for ZECs based on a calculated “social cost” of carbon, but the price can adjust downward based on an index of wholesale power prices. While the eligible zero-emission generators will still participate in wholesale electricity markets, ZECs provide additional out-of-market payments to compensate the generators for their zero-emission power.