Senate hearing is long on sound bites, short on financial commitment
In a rare display of political firepower, the Obama Administration sent four of its leading lights this week to testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the subject of controlling greenhouse gases. As everyone knows, the House passed a massive bill that lumbered its way through a muddy mine field of lobbyists and special interests to celebrated passage in record time. It now faces an uncertain fate in the Senate.
There has been considerable speculation of how the Obama Administration will approach Senate passage of a measure which could define not only its place in history, but also help put the nation on the path of saving the planet. It is a daunting challenge, and it will have to be met with more than the "if wishes were fishes" philosophy of green groups about renewable energy.
One of the key issues for Senate Republicans is that the House bill has no real support for nuclear energy. So it was with considerable interest that Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN) and Sen. Mike Crapo (ID) asked Energy Secretary Steven Chu about his views on the subject. To his credit, Chu (right) was ready for them.
He told the committee, “I think nuclear power is going to be a very important factor in getting us to a low carbon future.” He added, “Quite frankly, we want to recapture the lead on industrial nuclear power . . . we want to get it back.”
That’s wonderful stuff, but something is missing. It is support for expanded loan guarantees for the 17 applications pending with the Department of Energy worth a staggering $188 billion in new construction of nuclear power plants in the U.S. Support for the loan guarantees won’t cost the taxpayers a nickel since the industry would pay for the insurance the same way farmers pay for crop insurance.
But neither Chu nor the other administration policy makers said one word about the key subject that really matters. It’s not soup yet for the Democrats as long as they stick to the intoxicating illusions promoted by FERC’s Jon Wellinghoff that renewable energy sources along can save the planet.
The general political consensus is that if the Obama wants a greenhouse gas emissions control bill out of the Senate in time for a global confab on the subject to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December, he has to make a move on nuclear energy.
The single most important move he can make is to expand loan guarantees for nuclear power plants. Right now the $18.5 billion available might cover three or four plants. A shift to three or four times that amount would allow as many as 12 to move forward and enter revenue service by the middle or end of the next decade. Now that’s real soup.
Right now the Obama Administration’s cautious if unstated policy appears to be something like this . . . ‘let’s see if they can build a couple of them, and then we’ll let future administrations support a more determined roll out of new plants.” In the meantime, the White House can keep its political base intact with billions tossed to subsidize solar and wind energy projects. By the time everyone realizes you can’t light the nation’s cities and power its factories this way, we will have pushed real progress for nuclear energy back 20 years.
The Nuclear Energy Institute, the trade association for the industry, says that development of a ‘Clean Energy Bank’ separate from the Department of Energy would be the way to go. It would provide immediate support for nuclear energy as well as renewable technologies.
In fact, and in principle, one of Obama’s policy makers got it exactly right. Lisa Jackson, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, told the Senate Committee . . .
“Clean energy is to this decade and the next what the space race was to the 1950s and 60s and America is behind. Governments in Asia and Europe are ahead of the U.S. in making aggressive investments in clean energy technology.”
She’s cleared all ten pins with that one. Bravo Ms. Jackson. Just look at what is happening in the UK, India, China, and even Italy and you can see the nuclear renaissance is underway big time. Now Jackson may not have had nuclear energy exactly on her mind when she made this comment, but the shoe definitely fits. Hopefully, it was part of her thinking.
It is only in the U.S., and in Germany, where green groups have a near strangle hold on government financial commitments to new nuclear power plants. Statements of support from people like Steven Chu and Lisa Jackson are a start to change that situation.
There has to be more change if there is going to be legislation similar to the House coming out of the Senate this Fall. So far statements of principle by Sec. Chu, however appealing, aren’t enough. President Obama has got to show us the money. It’s too soon to know whether the White House will do it, but the opportunity is there if they will take it.
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So here's some techno fusion as inspirational music for the Obama team - Vanessa Mae playing "red hot." Five on the Scoville scale. "Fasten your seatbelts" - VM.
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