Congress kicks loan guarantees to the curb
Green groups scored a significant victory this week convincing a House-Senate Conference Committee not to include $50 billion in federal loan guarantees in the giant Economic Stimulus bill. The legislation, without support for nuclear energy, subsequently passed in the House and Senate and will be signed by President Obama on Tuesday Feb 17th.
Se. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), who was the primary sponsor of the measure, pointed out that the current federal loan guarantee program, authorized for $18.5 billion, doesn’t come near to matching the industry’s needs. Applications for $122 billion are pending according to the Department of Energy.
According to the Associated Press, Bennett said, "The only opposition that erupted publicly was that I had somehow gone into the tank with the nuclear industry. The anti-nuclear folks raised a significant political attack on the whole program."
Mitch Singer of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) said many of the groups opposing nuclear loan guarantees are being hypocritical because they don't oppose the billions of dollars in loan guarantees in the stimulus package earmarked for renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
“The loan guarantees are important primarily because they act as a catalyst for new technology, new plants and clean energy technology to access capital at a reasonable rate. It's an interesting juxtaposition. They don't seem to have a problem with any kind of economic stimulus for their preferred technology.”
AP reported that some members of Congress also have expressed concern about the existing loan guarantee program, which has yet to make a final loan decision even though the program has existed since early 2006.
At a Senate hearing on the program, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the panel's ranking Republican, both raised the possibility that the program might be better managed by an independent entity and not the Energy Department.
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