Obama Pushes for Risky Energy Options for What in Return?

This blog was written by Sara Barczak, former Regional Advocacy Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | February 12, 2010 | Coal, Energy Policy, Nuclear

On February 1, 2010 President Obama had his first exclusive interview with the YouTube community after his State of the Union Address. Over 11,000 questions were submitted and only 0.2% were selected. A video question from the Southern Energy Network was chosen that challenged President Obama’s controversial pledge to provide tens of billions of dollars more in federal loan guarantees for building new reactors along with more money for investing in offshore drilling and dirty coal technologies.


Southern Alliance for Clean Energy already commented on the mixed messages in the State of the Union, but President Obama’s answer to Southern Energy Network’s question begs another response. We question the politics of offering an olive branch laden with such risky energy choices and correct the inaccuracies.

Because of partisan rancor in Congress and the President’s commitment to bi-partisanship, nuclear power and offshore drilling appear to be a bridge to help reach across the aisle. But in spite of a proposed tripling in money for loan guarantees for new reactors, from $18.5 billion to more than $54 billion, the Republicans are only responding with kind words, in the case of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander for instance, not with any pledge to support comprehensive climate legislation. As Katherine Ling’s recent article in the New York Times correctly asks, “What does $36 billion in Nuclear Loan Guarantees Buy Democrats?.” In a very unsophisticated display of strategy, offshore drilling and new nuclear reactors are being unwisely offered up under the illusion that successful bi-partisan agreement will occur to pass strong climate legislation. SACE wouldn’t agree with offering up those energy choices as a bargaining chip to get climate legislation passed, but at least we’d understand the politics behind it. Instead, billions of dollars are going to be given away to socialize nuclear power and all the Administration will have in return are some kind words of support.

Now on to President Obama’s answer to the Southern Energy Network’s energy question. Though President Obama mentioned his strong support for advancing clean, renewable energy supplies such as wind, solar, and biodiesel, which we also support, he claims they won’t be able to provide for the country’s “enormous energy needs.” We disagree and have shown how it can be done right here in the Southeast, a region who’s abundant renewable energy potential is often overlooked, in our report, Yes We Can: Southern Solutions for a National Energy Standard. Nationally, we have tremendous affordable, and job-creating renewable energy resources to tap as outlined in several studies by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Navigant Consulting, Inc. Investing heavily in energy efficiency is also a key requirement, including getting a federal energy efficiency standard in place.

Instead of focusing on energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy, the president talked about how building new nuclear reactors are the “right thing to do if we’re serious about dealing with climate change.” SACE is very serious about dealing with the energy sector’s contribution to climate change – it’s our mission. But betting tens and tens of billions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars on a risky technology that’s unlikely to deliver real carbon reductions in the timeline scientists believe is required is a gamble that this country and our planet can’t afford. As a Presidential candidate, Obama stated a far different reaction to doling out billions to the nuclear power industry. Many other energy choices exist that will more effectively and affordably tackle climate change without causing the headaches posed by new reactors.

President Obama’s response incorrectly pointed to other countries such as Japan and France having greater reliance on nuclear power without “incidents” or “accidents.” France’s Nuclear Fix, by Dr. Arjun Makhijani at the Institute for Energy & Environmental Research, along with a fact sheet from Beyond Nuclear tells it plainly. The French reliance on nuclear power looks something like this: massive amounts of radioactive waste with no place to go, stockpiles of plutonium longed-for by terrorists, higher electricity costs for ratepayers and extensive radioactive contamination from reprocessing off the Normandy Coast that has angered France’s neighbors. A U.S. tour last September by European expert Yves Marignac on nuclear power explained France’s nuclear woes. As for Japan’s track record, the nuclear industry has suffered numerous setbacks, accidents, including fatalities, and an earthquake that caused the release of radioactive material into the environment.

As for President Obama’s comments about investing in new coal technologies, existing coal plants are dirty energy source that we need to transition away from and SACE doesn’t agree with the industry coined phrase “clean coal” — that slogan is truly an oxymoron. Because of serious mining concerns, mountain top removal, and lack of proven ability to safely and securely sequester large volumes of carbon dioxide and the continued lack of protective coal ash regulations, SACE questions the commitment of the Administration to really assure that advanced coal technologies can deliver.

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