Adapting Endangered Species Act Consultations to Accelerated Environmental Reviews in the FAST-41 Era

Office of New Reactors

The purpose of this presentation is to acquaint attendees with how NRC staff meets the challenges posed by the Section 7 consultation requirement under the Endangered Species Act and what steps the staff is taking to adapt its consultation efforts to the increased efficiency demands of Congress and the Administration. The learning objectives will include instilling an appreciation for the innovative steps the staff is taking to improve the efficiency of its Section 7 efforts. The presentation will focus on specific streamlining efforts the staff has implemented with respect to Section 7, and the chief take-away message will be that the staff has been proactive in streamlining the Section 7 process while still maintaining good relationships with conservation agencies and supporting the objectives of the Endangered Species Act.

Writing an environmental impact statement (EIS) to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the largest and most visible environmental review effort for new reactor licensing. However, the EIS is not the only environmental challenge the staff faces. An ancillary challenge is completing the Section 7 consultation. Successful consultation requires early and frequent communications between NRC staff biologists and biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The NRC biologists must write an analytical document termed a Biological Assessment that evaluates effects from proposed licensing actions on specific threatened or endangered species and critical habitats. The analyses in the Biological Assessment are considerably more detailed than those presented in the EIS. Ensuring the technical quality of the Biological Assessment is critical in ensuring that Section 7 consultations are completed to the satisfaction of other agencies in time for NRC staff to issue a final EIS and support adjudicatory hearings. The technical content of Biological Assessments played a key role in recently completed mandatory hearings for combined license applications for reactors at the Levy and Turkey Point sites in Florida and the North Anna site in Virginia. Just as Congress and the Administration are seeking to streamline the NEPA process to ensure timely and more predictable planning for Federal actions (and Federal permitting actions), so too are policymakers seeking to streamline and accelerate Section 7 consultations without compromising the objectives of the Endangered Species Act. These streamlining efforts can be expected to contribute substantially to expediting future environmental reviews of NRC licensing applications.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Monday, August 26, 2019