WASHINGTON, DC – Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, today introduced the Drive America on Natural Gas Act to promote the use of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) vehicles. Inhofe also introduced the American Affordable Fuels Act to relieve pain at the pump.
“As Americans continue to suffer from high gas prices, we need to take advantage of our abundant domestic supply of natural gas for use as a transportation fuel,” Senator Inhofe said. “The Drive America on Natural Gas Act adds flexibility to the current Renewable Fuels Standard mandates by adding natural gas. It encourages the use of a proven alternative fuel and sends a market signal to manufacturers to consider compressed natural gas as a cost competitive alternative. Natural gas is domestic, plentiful, affordable, and clean. The promise of natural gas as a mainstream transportation fuel is achievable today -- not 15 or 20 years from now.
“Today, the largest hurdle facing the natural gas vehicle industry is the lack of refueling stations available to the public. By encouraging the production of bi-fuel natural gas vehicles, my bill overcomes this key difficulty. Coupled with a home refueling unit (the Phill), consumers will be comfortable purchasing bi-fuel natural gas vehicles knowing that their vehicle can also run on conventional gasoline for that occasional long distance trip from home. Installed in one’s garage, the Phill is connected to a home’s natural gas line. Once plugged into a CNG vehicle, the Phill slowly compresses natural gas into the car’s tank. Similar to the idea of plug-in hybrids, the Phill allows consumers to re-fuel at home. Unlike plug-in hybrids, this technology is not a few years away -- it is here today.
“As the nation’s number two producer in natural gas production, Oklahomans have a strong appreciation for the versatility of natural gas. In fact, Oklahoma alone annually produces nearly one-tenth of total U.S. natural gas production.
“Just last month I was pleased to visit Tom Sewall of Tulsa Natural Gas Technologies, Inc. As a small business owner who installs NGV refueling stations, he is one of the most knowledgeable and vocal leaders in this growing industry. In my hometown of Tulsa, OK, a person can refuel their CNG powered cars for just 90 cents per gallon. Regular currently costs $3.95. That’s a savings of more than $3 per gallon.
“The Drive America on Natural Gas Act will allow natural gas to compete on its own merits; it does not dictate that consumers, businesses, or states must use natural gas as a transportation fuel. The bill encourages auto manufacturers to produce bi-fuel vehicles, streamlines EPA’s emissions certifications, and establishes a natural gas vehicle research program. Americans can ultimately choose whether natural gas powered vehicles are right for their own individual and business needs.”
About the Drive America on Natural Gas Act:
Expands RFS Definitions: Expands the definition in the Renewable Fuels Standard to allow the use of CNG and LNG fuels to meet the mandates. By broadening the scope of the Renewable Fuels Standard to include natural gas, we encourage the use of a proven domestic, clean, and economical alternative fuel and also make the current RFS mandates achievable. Additionally, it sends a signal to the nation’s automakers and fuels industries that natural gas is a competitive option as a mainstream transportation fuel.
Broadens Alternative Vehicle Tax Credit: Broadens the Alternative Vehicle Tax Credit to include bi-fuel vehicles. Currently only “dedicated” vehicles or vehicles which solely run on natural gas qualify for this credit. This narrow definition actually discourages the sale of bi-fuel vehicles – those which can run on both conventional fuels and natural gas fuels.
Establishes a Natural Gas Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration program: Several years ago, the Department of Energy had a robust Natural Gas Vehicle Research Development and Demonstration program. This bill once again establishes that program to research, improve, and develop the use of natural gas engines and vehicles. The program will assist manufacturers in emissions certification, will develop and improve nationally recognized safety codes and standards, will examine and improve the reliability and efficiency of natural gas fueling station infrastructure, and will study the use of natural gas engines in hybrid vehicles. Additionally, it requires the Department of Energy and the EPA to coordinate with the private sector to carry out the program.
Streamlines Emissions Certifications and Regulations: Directs the EPA to establish a state demonstration program to streamline the regulations and certifications currently required for the conversion of vehicles to natural gas. Today’s regulatory burdens are daunting for those in the business of converting vehicles to run on CNG or LNG. Currently, EPA imposes virtually the same certification requirements on NGV aftermarket conversion systems as they require on automakers.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, together with Senator Tom Coburn and Congressman Frank Lucas expressed outrage today over a temporary restraining order granted by Judge John Coughenour of the Western District of Washington Federal Court in Seattle on Tuesday July 8, 2008, at the request of National Wildlife Federation and seven state affiliates. The decision blocked the release of some Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for haying and grazing. In May, USDA announced the decision to allow haying and grazing on CRP acres, stipulating that it could only take place after the nesting season for birds in the state. A hearing is scheduled for tomorrow. Senator Inhofe has been working with Senator Tom Coburn, Congressman Frank Lucas, and USDA to ensure relief to farmers and ranchers in Northwest Oklahoma.
Sen. Inhofe: “As Oklahoma farmers and ranchers suffer from the devastating effects of a recent drought, it’s simply outrageous that several national liberal special interest groups have blocked critical federal assistance. Northwest Oklahoma farmers and ranchers are struggling to survive the conditions and USDA very wisely enacted a program to provide some relief. I am hopeful for a quick decision tomorrow in favor of getting relief back on track to those that are in dire need. The environmentalists make the absurd claim that this drought relief will somehow ‘significantly increase global warming.’”
Dr. Coburn: “It is an outrage that the livelihood of Oklahoma ranchers and farmers is being put in jeopardy because of liberal special interest groups. Ranchers in western Oklahoma are trying to sustain livestock operations in the middle of one the worst drought our state has faced. The unfounded and absurd claims of extreme environmentalists and their lawyers have placed entire herds in real danger. I stand strong with Senator Inhofe and Congressman Frank Lucas in opposing this action.”
Congressman Lucas: “The use of CRP land for haying and grazing was greatly needed by the ranchers and farmers suffering from unusually high feed costs and a severe drought in the Third Congressional District and all over Oklahoma. Many farmers and ranchers relied on the release of these lands, and the decision by this court to suspend its use has already had a very negative effect. I am hopeful that a decision is made quickly in this case restoring haying and grazing rights to those people who need it.”
As reported in the Oklahoma Farm Report, Oklahoma Cattlemen's Executive Director Scott Dewald explained the dire consequences of the ruling: “Dewald documented thirty ranchers that will lose almost $10,000 apiece if they are not allowed to graze the CRP land that was offered to them by Uncle Sam. Worse, many of those herds will face partial or total liquidation as the CRP land was one of their last options to survive the summer.”
Mike Spradling, Oklahoma Farm Bureau President: “Farm Bureau is extremely concerned about the severe economic hardship this injunction imposes on farmers and ranchers. Producers relied on USDA’s announcement about the new program and have already begun using their precious financial resources to prepare the land for haying and grazing. It’s important for the court to hear from farmers and ranchers about the harmful effects of this injunction, both since July 8 when the injunction was issued and going forward.”
Ray Wulf, President of the American Farmers and Ranchers: “The Lawsuit and restraining order brought forward by the National Wildlife Federation is just another example of special interests being allowed to impose their misguided purpose in front of the needs of farmers, ranchers and consumers. This restriction is having a profound impact on the economic needs and survival of farmers, ranchers and their communities devastated by drought. This action will ultimately lead to further increases in the surging price for groceries that consumers are already experiencing. The philosophy being advocated by the National Wildlife Federation is counterproductive to supplying food for consumers' table.”
A July 9, 2008 letter was sent to Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer in support of the temporary restraining order by Environmental Defense Fund, The Minnesota Project, Sierra Club, Center for Native Ecosystems, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Partners for Sustainable Pollination, Environmental Working Group, Pollinator Partnership, Defenders of Wildlife, American Farmland Trust, World Wildlife Fund, American Rivers, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and American Bee Keeping Federation.
According to the article in the High Plains Journal, “Judge issues restraining order stopping emergency grazing on CRP” by Jennifer M. Latzke, “This decision affects 24 million acres of CRP land that was opened to Critical Feed Use provisions by the USDA May 27. The opening of those acres was to occur after the primary nesting season had ended for grass-nesting birds. The acres were to provide feed and forage to alleviate the escalating price of feed for livestock producers. Several states had begun opening up their CRP acres as of July 2, including Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Colorado was set to begin activity July 15. Texas, the largest state has 583,000 acres available for signup in the program, followed by Colorado with 253,000 acres, Oklahoma with 210,00 acres, and and New Mexico with 177,000 acres.”
High Plains JournalJudge issues restraining order stopping emergency grazing on CRP
By Jennifer M. Latzke
A U.S. District Court judge has issued a temporary restraining order that stops emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program acres. Late Tuesday, July 8, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour of the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington, Seattle, granted a temporary restraining order against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Farm Services Agency, effectively stopping the Critical Feed Use provisions set forth.
The order, filed on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation and six of its affiliates, stops USDA from processing or approving any additional CRP contract modifications that allow haying or grazing. It also further ordered the USDA to contact those CRP participants already haying or grazing lands that they must remove cattle and halt haying operations immediately.
FSA offices have already begun notifying producers of the restraining order.
This decision affects 24 million acres of CRP land that was opened to Critical Feed Use provisions by the USDA May 27. The opening of those acres was to occur after the primary nesting season had ended for grass-nesting birds. The acres were to provide feed and forage to alleviate the escalating price of feed for livestock producers. Several states had begun opening up their CRP acres as of July 2, including Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Colorado was set to begin activity July 15. Texas, the largest state has 583,000 acres available for signup in the program, followed by Colorado with 253,000 acres, Oklahoma with 210,00 acres, and and New Mexico with 177,000 acres.
Congressman Jerry Moran, R-KS, is a senior member of the House Committee on Agriculture, and released a statement early July 10 regarding the order.
"It is unfortunate that this action has taken place especially in this late hour after producers have made stocking decisions," Moran said. "I am working with USDA officials to determine ways to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. I am also considering legislative action. This is an example of an environmental group obstructing legitimate agriculture policy decisions."
The National Wildlife Federation, with 14 other conservation groups, wrote a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, July 9. The letter urged him to reject pressure from Congress and other producer groups "to allow the penalty-free early release of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)."
"A penalty-free early release of the magnitude you are considering-millions of acres-would deliver a devastating blow to the nation's soil, water, and wildlife habitat, and significantly increase global warming," said the letter.
"Because most CRP lands are marginal for cropping, even if all CRP acres were brought back into commodity production, the impact on aggregate commodity supplies and prices would be modest… We urge you to protect the taxpayers' investment in soil quality, water quality, and wildlife habitat and not allow landowners to leave CRP contracts early without fully reimbursing the Treasury for the taxpayer-funded investment in those lands."
The letter opposing these proposals is signed by Environmental Defense Fund, The Minnesota Project, Sierra Club, Center for Native Ecosystems, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Partners for Sustainable Pollination, Environmental Working Group, Pollinator Partnership, Defenders of Wildlife, American Farmland Trust, World Wildlife Fund, American Rivers, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and American Bee Keeping Federation. This temporary order is for 10 days, with an argument on the motion for preliminary injunction set for July 17. The USDA has until July 13 to file a response to the preliminary injunction.
WASHINGTON, DC – Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, today introduced a bill to reauthorize the Economic Development Administration (EDA). EDA works with partners in local communities to create wealth and minimize poverty by promoting favorable business environments to attract private investment and encourage long-term economic growth. Senator Inhofe’s bill includes many of the program administration improvements proposed by the President while reaffirming a commitment to acceptable funding levels. Specifically, the bill reauthorizes the agency for five years, allows for increases in the minimum level of funding for planning districts, provides needed resources and reforms to improve administration of the revolving loan fund program, and adds flexibility in addressing grant recipients’ changed economic development needs. As Chairman of the EPW Committee in 2004, Senator Inhofe sponsored the last reauthorization of EDA.
“The Economic Development Administration has a proven track record of providing much-needed funds to economically distressed regions,” Senator Inhofe said. “In Oklahoma alone, over the past five and a half years, EDA grants have resulted in almost 12,000 jobs being created or saved. Investments of about $22.7 million have leveraged another 24 million in state and local dollars and more than 437 million in private sector dollars. Durant, Clinton, Oklahoma City, Hobart, Seminole, Miami, and Elgin are just some of the Oklahoma communities that have made good use of EDA assistance.
“To ensure the continuation of this good work and to provide the tools necessary to improve performance even further, I am introducing legislation today to reauthorize EDA. Studies show that EDA uses federal dollars efficiently and effectively, creating and retaining long-term jobs at an average cost that is among the lowest in government. Especially in these times of economic uncertainty, it is imperative not to create uncertainty for this very successful agency and the struggling communities that depend on its assistance by allowing the authorization to lapse.”
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday regarding the need for a serious and balanced approach to lowering the price at the pump:
“As we stand here, Americans are suffering from the most dramatic oil shock in memory. A single barrel of crude oil costs almost three times today what it did a year and a half ago. This is a crisis that demands our full attention.
“Yet, until now, Democrats on Capitol Hill have responded as if high gas prices were a mere distraction. And their proposals have been the legislative equivalent of a flyswatter when the American people are clamoring for the heavy artillery.
“Part of the reason for this timid approach by our friends on the other side, as anyone can see, is the upcoming election. They’ve made no secret of the fact that they don’t want to consider real legislation until Inauguration Day, when they hope their candidate will take the White House.
“We need to realize that Americans are more concerned at the moment about paying for groceries and filling up their tanks with gas than they are about the political calendar. Americans aren’t thinking about next January. They’re thinking about today. And they expect their elected representatives in Washington to take serious steps now to lower the price of gas.
“The proposal that the Democratic Leader outlined on gas prices last week falls laughably short. It has all the marks of a political exercise nervously cobbled together in the face of constituent pressure and none of the elements of a serious plan that would actually lower the price of gas or reduce our dependence on the Middle East. The Democrats will have to do better than this if Americans want to see their gas prices go down.
“Here’s their plan.
“First, they propose curbing speculation.
“Democrats want us to forget that no reputable economist thinks speculators alone are the reason for the spike in gas prices. Or that a recent report by the 27-nation International Energy Agency chided politicians who blame speculators alone as searching for a scapegoat instead of looking real answers.
“Blaming speculators alone is not a serious proposal for lowering the price of gas. We do need more cops on the beat at the CFTC. But if Democrats think that the answer to $4-plus a gallon gasoline is curbing speculation alone, then they’re obviously asking the wrong question.
“Second, their plan calls on the President to release 10 percent of the oil contained in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. It’s encouraging to see our friends on the other side acknowledging that increasing supply has an effect on price. But, at best, this is a polite nod in the direction of supply. It’s nibbling around the edges. Again, it’s timid.
“Even if we were to tap 10 percent of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, as they suggest, that would only allow for the release of 70 million barrels at a time when Americans are using more than 20 million barrels of oil a day. In other words, this is a three-day solution. And it should go without saying that a three-day supply of oil is not a serious proposal for lowering the price of gas.
“Next, the Democrat plan for high gas prices calls for increasing production on the 68 million acres already leased to oil companies. This is the so-called ‘Use it or lose it’ provision that says scolding energy companies for not producing fast enough will magically cause gas prices to go down. Let me remind my friends that this is why we call it exploration. And those who do it should be encouraged, not threatened.
“The fact is, the Secretary of the Interior already has the authority to revoke a lease if it’s not being used according to the original terms of the lease. Democrats don’t mention this at their press conferences. Nor do they mention that many of these leases are unproductive. Nor do they mention that the federal government has declared 85 percent of offshore land and 62 percent of known onshore oil reserves completely off-limits to new exploration.
“Nor do the Democrats mention that — because of them—100 percent of Western oil shale is off limits, despite the fact that experts estimate that the western states that have oil shale deposits are floating on a sea of oil roughly three times the size of Saudi Arabian oil reserves. In other words, ‘Use it or lose it’ is already the law of the land. And ‘Use it or lose it’ is not a serious proposal for lowering the price of gas.
“Finally, the Democrat plan says we should stop exporting oil that’s produced domestically.
“Well that’s an interesting idea. Last year, America exported only 10 million barrels of crude oil overseas — including sales to Puerto Rico. Today alone, Americans will use more than 20 million barrels of oil. This is a half-day solution to a year-long problem. It is, in other words, a joke.
“This crisis is real. Americans are really suffering from high gas prices. And they deserve better from their elected leaders in Washington than half-day or three-day solutions and bad jokes. They deserve a year-round solution.
“Americans deserve a solution that says if prices are going to go down, supply needs to go up. They deserve a plan that lifts the ban on offshore exploration and oil shale development, even as we continue to promote conservation.
“Americans know this crisis is not only a demand problem. It’s a supply and demand problem. And until more of our friends on the other side acknowledge this, record high prices will persist.
“Some of our friends are beginning to acknowledge the undeniable. As of today, 10 Democrats have expressed some level of willingness to explore offshore. They’re acknowledging a groundswell of public opinion — even among self-described liberals — in favor of more domestic supply. And Republicans have a proposal that was designed specifically to attract their support and the support of any other member of the Senate who actually wants to achieve a result here.
“It promotes energy efficient vehicles like plug-in electric cars and trucks. And it addresses supply and demand by lifting the ban on Western oil shale development and opening up exploration far from the shores of the states that want it.
“Ours is a serious proposal that directly addresses the price of gas at the pump. It is not a gimmick. It’s not a half-day band aid on a year-round problem. It is a solution. And it’s what the American people demand.
“High gas prices are a serious problem that demands to be taken seriously.
“It’s time our friends on the other side put partisan differences — and timid, peripheral half-measures — aside and get serious about this urgent situation. The American people expect and deserve it.”
Senator McConnell's Press Release Click Here
For more information on Gas Prices Click Here
WASHINGTON, DC – Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, today praised President Bush for lifting the executive ban on offshore drilling.
“President Bush is to be commended for taking a critical step to insure an increased domestic energy supply for America,” Senator Inhofe said. “Democrats in Congress must stop blocking America’s access to the resources on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). With gas prices continuing to skyrocket, suffering Americans are demanding Congress allow more domestic energy production.
“Recent polling has shown 67 percent of the American people now support offshore drilling, with just 18 percent opposed. Congress should follow the President’s lead and lift the moratoriums on domestic energy exploration. Currently, 85 percent of the OCS --an estimated 19 billion barrels of recoverable oil -- is off limits. At today’s import levels, this is the equivalent of 35 years of imports from Saudi Arabia. No country on earth has exploration technology as advanced and environmentally sound as ours. Even so, Democrats oppose offshore production based upon misleading environmental grounds. Major spills from drilling and production platforms are nearly non-existent. Both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which were massive Category 5's, plowed through the heart of Gulf oil production just four weeks apart, yet no major spills occurred.”
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WASHINGTON, DC – Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, today commented on the courts’ striking down the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR rule).
"Today, our air is less clean because of the Democrats’ inaction in 2005,” Senator Inhofe said. “It is a shame that the courts have struck down the CAIR rule, which was the only administrative solution after the Democrats killed the more comprehensive Clear Skies legislation in 2005. The Democrats and their environmental allies have jeopardized the ability to reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), and mercury because they held Clear Skies hostage to the political issue of carbon caps. The failure to make further reductions in pollution is clearly at their feet.
“Passing Clear Skies would have greatly aided state and local governments to comply with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The Democrats instead chose the path of attempting to litigate their way to cleaner air, and that has resulted in delaying progress, has yielded little or no results, and has wasted millions in taxpayer dollars.”
The Clear Skies act would have reduced power plant emissions of SO2, NOx, and mercury by 70% across the nation, the largest emission reduction effort ever proposed by an American president. The Clear Skies act would have saved an estimated14,000 lives a year. The bill failed to gain a majority in the EPW Committee by a vote of 9 to 9 in 2005. The failure by Democrats to support Clear Skies resulted in more litigation, more costs, and less certainty for businesses and less certain cuts in pollution.
Senate Environment and Public Works Full Committee
Saving Lives on Our Nation’s Highways
Thursday, July 17, 2008
One of the most important aspects of SAFETEA was the creation of a new core Safety program called the Highway Safety Improvement Program or HSIP (READ: H-sip). Frequently, when discussing transportation issues, much of the focus is on problems with funding, congestion, and the physical state of our infrastructure, but sufficient attention must be paid to ensuring our nation’s roads are as safe as possible. Injuries and fatalities on our nation’s roads place enormous economic and non-economic costs on our society. We can do better. As we work to increase the performance of our transportation network, we must also continue to make safety our priority.
Following enactment of SAFETEA, I asked GAO to conduct reviews of many aspects of the highway program. HSIP was one of the areas they have been looking into for me. The HSIP work will not be published until September, but they will be able to give us their main findings today. The most important part of HSIP is the strategic highway safety plan, where states create a data driven plan to address their most pressing safety problems. Anything on this plan is eligible for federal HSIP funding. I really like this approach. Let the states determine their greatest needs and determine how funds can be best spent.
These strategic plans are one of the primary areas I asked GAO to focus their efforts on to ensure the program was operating as we hoped and planned. Early reports are fairly positive, but as always, there is room for improvements, especially on the data front. I hope all of today’s witnesses can give us their thoughts on this issue.
Recently I was made aware of a growing concern by State Departments of Transportation regarding the ability to use proprietary products in Federal-Aid projects. I am continually amazed at how quickly technology changes and how what may have been “state of the art” is quickly overshadowed by new and innovative products. We want our States to have the ability to use the product best suited for the job, but at the same time we need to make sure that scarce taxpayer dollars are used wisely. Thus, the Federal Highway Administration has regulations requiring open and competitive bidding for vendors doing work or providing materials for Federal Aid projects. I support that process, but would like to hear from our witnesses whether or not the existing regulations need to be examined to make sure that they are not inhibiting states from choosing the right product for the job.
One of our witnesses will discuss performance measures. Currently, the highway program provides states over $40 billion a year. This money comes with far too many bureaucratic strings attached. That said, an important area is currently ignored: What are we getting for our money after the project is constructed? How states choose to spend limited state and federal resources obviously has an enormous impact on the performance of the system. Performance measures can focus on individual aspects of the system such as congestion, the physical condition of roads or bridges, or safety. I am interested to see if HSIP is an area where performance measures can play a role. The use of performance measures is complicated–otherwise they would already be more widely used.
This hearing is being held as we prepare to write the next highway bill, so I’m looking forward to hearing concrete suggestions from our witnesses on how to improve the current HSIP program. This is a critical program and I know that everybody wants to make the improvements necessary to help make our nation’s roads safer.
Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Hearing:
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing and relicensing Processes
Wednesday, July 16, 10:00 AM
I commend Sens. Carper and Voinovich for holding this hearing today, continuing the tradition of rigorous oversight that I started when I assumed the Chairmanship of this Subcommittee over ten years ago. Back then, the nuclear industry was preparing to extend existing plant licenses and was very concerned about significant uncertainties in the process, particularly the time involved and the requirements necessary to receive the extension. Since then, as a result of strong oversight by this Subcommittee, almost half the fleet has been approved for an additional twenty years of operation. It is our job to ensure that the Commission is an efficient regulator, true to its mission of protecting public health and safety, but also able to issue sound decisions in a timely fashion.
U.S. electricity demand is projected to grow 30% by 2030. Within the next 4 years, according to the North American Electric Reliability Council, six regions of our country may not have adequate electricity supplies to ensure reliability. We need an adequate, reliable, and diverse energy supply to power this great nation of ours, and nuclear energy is a vital component. New nuclear plants can’t be built within the next 4 years, but we need to ensure that new plants are being developed promptly and safely to meet our growing needs.
Last September, the NRC began to review licenses for new nuclear plants. This is a function the Commission has not performed since the ’70s with a revised rule that has never been used before. The nature of this situation makes strong leadership by the Commission extremely important. I am concerned that the Commission is not providing the policy and schedule guidance necessary for this process to proceed smoothly.
In 2004, the hearing notice for the LES National Enrichment Facility included a detailed schedule with deadlines for staff to complete various tasks and for completion of the hearing itself. The notice also directed the hearing boards to exclude certain issues from their consideration, issues that the Commission would address directly. Accordingly, the license was issued in 31 months, nearly achieving the Commission’s original schedule of 30 months, despite never having previously issued a license for a uranium enrichment facility. With the LES review as an example of efficient decision-making, it begs the question of why the same approach is not being used for new plant licensing.
Hearing notices issued for the current license applications are generic and provide no such guidance or schedule. NRC staff vaguely indicates one year for the hearing process but readily admits uncertainty about the time frame. Why is the Commission reluctant to ensure schedule discipline by including specific milestones in hearing notices?
Furthermore, key policy questions remain. Will the Commission defer to state agencies on determinations of the need for power? Will the Commission require licensees to analyze alternative sites if they have chosen to add a new reactor to an existing site?
The lack of clear schedules and resolution of key issues will compound the growing pains that the Commission and the industry must wrestle with as we end our 30-year construction hiatus. These are complications we simply can’t afford. The Commission’s review of licenses for new nuclear plants must be as efficient as possible without compromising safety. Keeping the lights on is fundamental to our nation’s energy security, and the NRC will undoubtedly play a critical role.