Senate panel advances nuclear regulatory overhaul
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee this morning approved a bipartisan nuclear policy bill that could play into permitting talks.
Why it matters: The ADVANCE Act has a real chance at becoming law, as the nuclear industry experiences something of a political renaissance.
Driving the news: Approved on a 16-3 vote, the legislation would broadly aim to speed Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing for the next generation of nuclear technologies.
- It would reduce licensing fees for advanced reactor technologies and make it easier for the agency to hire specialized staff to work through the paperwork.
- It would also seek to expedite the regulatory process for nuclear facilities at brownfield sites, such as former coal power plants and mines.
- “Every day I hear how everything needs to be cleaner and greener, and this technology will lead us to that,” EPW ranking member Shelley Moore Capito said during the markup.
Of note: The vote highlighted progressives' continued skepticism of nuclear power.
- Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey and Jeff Merkley were the only “no” votes.
- The ADVANCE Act includes funding authorizations for legacy waste cleanup efforts — a potential hook for progressives — but Markey said it doesn’t go far enough to win his vote.
- “The funding authorized in this legislation will not address the full legacy of radioactive pollution,” Markey said.
What we’re watching: How this figures into the ongoing debate about permits.
- The debt ceiling deal, expected to pass the House today, contains many of the National Environmental Policy Act changes Republicans had been seeking, potentially stymieing further dealmaking.
- But nuclear has its own political momentum right now, as the industry positions itself as a technological innovator and a key piece of the energy transition.
In the House, Energy and Commerce is focused on the Prohibiting Russian Uranium Imports Act, which has some momentum in the Senate as well.
- But House lawmakers have also expressed interest in speeding NRC licensing.
- Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, one of the ADVANCE Act’s lead sponsors, said “TBD” when asked how it factors in continuing permitting negotiations.
- “Pretty strong vote — that’s a good sign,” Whitehouse told Axios as he left the committee room.
- “Most people understand that what was done related to permitting was more or less of an opening bid or a down payment, but not at the full work we need to do,” he said.
What's next: EPW had also been scheduled to take up Jeffery Baran, whom President Biden has renominated to serve another term as an NRC commissioner.
- Chair Tom Carper said he hopes to "take care of that off the floor today."
- Capito, however, said she opposes Baran: "Unfortunately, Commissioner Baran is not the right fit for this moment," she said.