Founder and President
African American Environmentalist Association
Presented to the
Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation
June 28, 2005
My name is Norris McDonald and I am the founder and president of the African American Environmentalist Association (AAEA). AAEA, founded in 1985, is an organization dedicated to protecting the environment, enhancing human, animal and plant ecologies and promoting the efficient use of natural resources. AAEA includes an African American point of view in environmental policy decision-making and resolves environmental racism and injustice issues through the application of practical environmental solutions. AAEA supports the Early Site Permit (ESP) to build a new nuclear power plant at the Grand Gulf site.
AAEA supports the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff recommendation, based on the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), that an ESP should be issued to System Energy Resources, Inc.(SERI) to build a new nuclear power plant within the existing Grand Gulf Nuclear Station (GGNS). SERI submitted an ESP application on October 16, 2003 in accordance with 10 CFR 52.17(a)(2). If the ESP is approved, AAEA strongly urges SERI to submit a combined license application in order to accelerate the construction and operation of a specific NRC approved plant design.
AAEA expressed public support for nuclear power for the first time in 2002 in Washington, D.C. after a two-year internal process of studying and debating the issue. The fundamental reasons that AAEA supports nuclear power are:
· Nuclear power provides electricity safely and reliably,
· Nuclear power produces no smog forming emissions,
· Nuclear power produces no greenhouse gases,
· Spent fuel can be reprocessed for reuse,
· Yucca Mountain is acceptable as a repository for non-recyclable products,
· Nuclear power has an excellent quarter century safety record, and
· Nuclear power plants can use nuclear bomb warhead material as a fuel.
Grand Gulf is one of 102 other commercial nuclear power plants that provide 20 percent of our nation’s electricity needs and 27.2 percent of the electricity generation in Mississippi. During 2000, Mississippi's nuclear power plants avoided approximately 58,000 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions, 24,000 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions, and 2.47 million metric tons of carbon emissions.1 The plants also avoided emissions of mercury. Avoiding these additional emissions is particularly important to areas that are experiencing air quality problems due to traffic and industry.
The NRC quantified the environmental impacts of this proposed action using the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) guidance (40 CFR 1508.27) and established three levels of significance: Small, Moderate, or Large. 2 A public hearing in Port Gibson, Mississippi (Claiborne County), location of the GGNS, provides stakeholders and NRC staff with an opportunity to discuss the DEIS. AAEA’s comments in this statement are limited to the environmental justice issues included in the DEIS.
Environmental justice is defined by AAEA as the fair treatment of all people regardless of race or income with respect to environmental issues. AAEA was among the participants at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1991 when environmental justice polices were first being considered by the agency. AAEA is currently promoting environmental justice locally, regionally and nationally.
The NRC adopted a specific numerical process in the DEIS for defining minority populations. 4 The NRC also eliminated environmental justice in the Atomic Licensing Safety Board process maintaining that it would be adequately addressed in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process (see 69 FR 52040). The DEIS addresses environmental justice issues.
Charges of environmental racism will be injected into these proceedings. We believe the charge is inaccurate and unfair. Entergy owns and operates nuclear plants in many locations that are not in minority communities. Moreover, the mayor of Port Gibson, the county supervisor and the Entergy vice president at Grand Gulf (George A. Williams), and Congressman Bennie Thompson are all African-American and support a new plant. The elected representatives of the area populations clearly have the best interests of their constituents in mind. They are not racists. City aldermen and the County Board of Supervisors also support a new plant. Although we do not have exact numbers, anecdotal evidence suggests that many African American residents in Port Gibson and Claiborne County want the project.
The African American Environmentalist Association supports the new unit or units and we are an African American-led environmental organization. We would not support the ESP if we believed it was a racist proposal. Our long history of fighting environmental injustice qualifies us to conclude that the project is not racist. The project will benefit African American communities in Port Gibson, Claiborne County, the State of Mississippi and African American communities downwind of the facility in the Eastern part of the United States.
4.0 Construction Impacts at the Proposed Site
AAEA concurs with the NRC staff position that the Grand Gulf ESP site “would not result in disproportionate and adverse offsite environmental impacts to minority and low-income populations.” We agree with the findings that impacts during the construction would be temporary and insignificant. The NRC concluded that there would be a MODERATE impact if tax revenues were not allocated to the local community to mitigate for additional construction traffic and new residents. The city, county and state governments should assure that any tax revenues generated by a new nuclear power plant should be equitably distributed. The tax considerations are included in EIS Section 2.8: Socioeconomics. 3
5.0 Station Operation Impacts at the Proposed Site
AAEA believes that the operation of a second nuclear unit at Grand Gulf would be positive for the local, state, regional and national communities. The regional and national impacts would be reductions in smog-forming and greenhouse gases that would be beneficial to downwind states.
AAEA concurs with the conclusions in the report that operation of a new facility would be beneficial to the local community and “the impacts to minority and low-income populations from operating new units at the Grand Gulf ESP site would be minor.” The tax questions surrounding the operation of the facility will be determined at some future date by the county and state legislatures. This is also the conclusion of the NRC staff:
It is not clear how the new nuclear facility would be treated for property tax purposes, so it is not clear whether Claiborne County would receive property taxes, sales, and use taxes, or other taxes and public monies commensurate with the costs of its additional emergency management and public services obligations.
7.0 Cumulative Impacts
AAEA concurs with NRC staff in concluding that, “the cumulative environmental impacts related to environmental justice would be SMALL.” Concurrently, “If tax revenues dramatically increase, the residents of Claiborne County (who are disproportionately minority and low-income) would enjoy LARGE beneficial tax revenue impacts.”
8.5 Evaluation of Alternative Sites
The DEIS examines one alternative region of interest (ROI) for considering environmental justice and it is located near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The facility in this ROI is the River Bend Station. Entergy Nuclear has seven existing ROI sites with operating nuclear power plants licensed by the NRC:
The ROI is the geographical area considered in searching for candidate ESP sites. AAEA concurs with the NRC staff findings that the impacts of a new unit or units at the River Bend site on minority and low-income populations would be SMALL. No adverse or disproportionately high impacts were identified. The city of Port Gibson and the residents of Claiborne County should be aggressively petitioning SERI to build the plant in their jurisdiction. There is no ironclad guarantee that the Grand Gulf location will be the site of the new plant. Stakeholders should be aware that the competitive climate for new nuclear facilities is increasing.
The DEIS should contain racial and income demographic information in chart and narrative forms early in the report (Section 2.8 Socioeconomics). Although the information is illustrated in map form in Figure 2-12 and Figure 2-13, it would be beneficial for readers if it were presented in chart form with narrative explanations. For instance, the following demographics data should be included early in the report. According to the 2000 Census, African Americans are 12.3% of the population in the U.S., 36.3 % of the population in Mississippi, 84.1% in Claiborne County and 80% in Port Gibson.
AAEA supports the ESP for the Grand Gulf location. We encourage the facility owner to accelerate its decision to apply for a construction and operating license and to construct a new plant at the earliest possible date.
1 Nuclear Energy Institute, Website.
2 SMALL – Environmental effects are not detectable or are so minor that they will neither destabilize nor noticeably alter any important attribute of the resource.
MODERATE – Environmental effects are sufficient to alter noticeably, but not to destabilize, important attributes of the resource.
LARGE – Environmental effects are clearly noticeable and are sufficient to destablize important attributes of the resource
3 Mississippi Code Title 27 addresses taxation of nuclear generating plants and the distribution of tax revenues from nuclear plants (Mississippi Tax Code 2003). This code states that any nuclear generating plant located in the State, which is owned or operated by a public utility, is exempt from county, municipal, and district ad valorem taxes. In lieu of the payment of county, municipal, and district ad valorem taxes, the nuclear power plant pays the State Tax Commission a sum based on the assessed value of the nuclear generating plant.
GGNS is taxed by the State for a sum equal to 2 percent of the assessed value but not less than $20 million annually. At least $7.8 million goes to Clairborne County (SERI 2004c). Of this amount, $3 million is allocated contingent upon Claiborne County upholding its commitment to the GGNS offsite emergency plan. The $7.8 million represents roughly 83 percent of all Claiborne County revenues (Mississippi State 2002).
The State Tax Commission transfers $160,000 annually to the city of Port Gibson provided that the city maintains its commitment to the GGNS offsite emergency plan. Ten percent of the remainder of the payments are transferred from the Mississippi Tax Commission to the General Fund of the State. The balance of the tax revenue from the GGNS site is transferred to the counties and municipalities in the State of Mississippi where electric service is provided. The tax revenues are distributed in proportion to the amount of electric energy consumed by the retail customers in each county, with no county receiving an excess of 20 percent of the funds (Mississippi Tax Code 2003). This distribution, based on energy consumed, also includes Claiborne County.
Depending on the type of facility (unregulated merchant facility or a facility regulated by the Public Service Commissions of Mississippi and Louisiana), the tax structure of the Grand Gulf ESP facility may be similar to the above for GGNS (a regulated facility), or may be some mutually agreeable amount for an unregulated merchant facility.
4 For the purpose of the [NRC] staff’s review, a minority population is defined to exist if the percentage of each minority, or aggregated minority category within the census block groups potentially affected by the ESP for the Grand Gulf ESP site, exceeds the corresponding percentage of minorities in the entire state of Mississippi or Louisiana by 20 percent, or if the corresponding percentage of minorities within the census block group is at least 50 percent. A low-income population is defined to exist if the percentage of low-income population within a census block group exceeds the corresponding percentage of low-income population in the entire state of Mississippi or Louisiana (as applicable) by 20 percent, or if the corresponding percentage of low-income population within a census block group is at least 50 percent.