The NRC recently published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) seeking public comments on possible amendments to its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations on categorical exclusions. Comments are due by July 21, 2021.
The NRC’s regulations at 10 CFR Part 51 are intended to assist the agency in complying with its obligations under NEPA, which requires federal agencies to prepare environmental assessments (EAs) or environmental impact statements (EISs) in connection with certain proposed NRC licensing and regulatory actions. However, NEPA also authorizes agencies to issue regulations specifying generic categories of actions that normally do not have significant effects on the human environment, either individually or cumulatively. Agency actions that meet the criteria for one (or more) of these “categorical exclusions” can be undertaken without an EA or EIS, resulting in a more efficient administrative process. The NRC’s regulations at 10 CFR § 51.22 specify the types of actions that the NRC has determined not to have significant environmental impacts and therefore qualify for categorical exclusions.
Since the NRC last updated its categorical exclusion regulation over a decade ago, it has continued to accumulate data and experience. In the ANPR, the NRC proposes to add new categorical exclusions to Section 51.22—or to amend or expand existing ones. The ANPR notes that “the NRC has identified potential new categorical exclusions, areas where the scope of existing categories could be clarified, and where ambiguity in the criteria has created inconsistencies between existing excluded categories,” including more than a dozen specific proposed revisions.
The ANPR solicits public comments on possible additions to, clarifications of, or removals from the existing categories. Notably, the agency seeks comments on possible new exclusions related to “NRC authorized changes to previously approved programs, such as emergency plans, cybersecurity programs, quality assurance programs, radiation protection programs, or materials control and accounting programs.”
The NRC is providing a 75-day comment period for this phase of the process and will conduct a public scoping meeting to discuss the agency’s plan and collect stakeholder input. Written comments are due by July 21, 2021.
Existing NRC licensees and potential future applicants should consider providing input as part of this process. The NRC does not often reopen its categorical exclusion regulations, so this provides a rare opportunity to guide the agency toward a more efficient NEPA process. We will continue to monitor the NRC public meetings related to this effort and report on any significant developments.