(Juny 15, 2005) The U.S. Senate on June 28 overwhelmingly passed an energy bill that would give billions of dollars of taxpayer money to the nuclear power and fossil fuel industries. However, the bill still faces an uncertain future since the House of Representatives passed a different version earlier this year and there remain major stumbling blocks between the two versions.
(632.5703) NIRS - Ironically, as if to prove just how out of touch the Congress is with the American people, the vote came just three weeks after the release of a new ABC-Washington Post public opinion poll, which showed that 64% of the U.S. public is opposed to the construction of any new nuclear reactors. Despite a steady Bush administration/nuclear power industry public relations campaign, the poll found that the number opposed to new reactors has actually increased by 12% since the last time the question was asked in June 2001.
According to an analysis of the bill by Public Citizen, the nuclear industry could receive US$10.1 billion - and given the vague language in parts of the bill, potentially much more - in taxpayer subsidies and loan guarantees. The bill would also reauthorize the Price-Anderson Act, which limits industry liability in the event of an accident, for 20 years, and would authorize construction of a new reactor in Idaho to generate hydrogen, among numerous other benefits for the industry. For a full examination of the bill's nuclear provisions, go to http://www.citizen.org/cmep/energy_enviro_nuclear/electricity/energybill/2005/articles.cfm?ID=13518.
The 12 who voted against the bill included seven Democrats:
- Corzine (NJ),
- Feingold (WI),
- Lautenberg (NJ),
- Nelson (FL),
- Reed (RI),
- Schumer (NY),
- Wyden (OR);
and five Republicans:
- Gregg (NH),
- Kyl (AZ),
- Sununu (NH),
- Martinez (FL), and
- McCain (AZ).
However, the bill still has a long way to go and its final passage is uncertain. There are two major differences (and many less crucial) between the Senate and House versions. Most importantly is that the House version includes oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the Senate bill does not. While the Senate voted earlier this year to allow drilling in the Arctic, it did so on a different bill with a different process that prevented filibusters. It is highly unlikely that the Senate would accept an ANWR provision in the energy bill - there are more than 40 Senators who oppose ANWR meaning that the House would have to allow its removal from the bill. But allowing removal might make it more difficult to enact an ANWR provision in another manner.
Another key difference is MTBE, a gasoline additive that has polluted local water supplies across the country. House leader Tom Delay (R-TX) has insisted that the energy bill include a provision exempting MTBE manufacturers - most of which are in his congressional district - from liability for the pollution. The Senate has opposed this provision, and this issue was a major reason an energy bill failed in the last Congress: the Senate and House simply could not reach a position of compromise.
It seems likely that some Senators voted for the energy bill this time merely to make a statement that they support an energy policy, but do not necessarily intend to vote for the bill that comes out of conference, particularly if renewable energy and other provisions currently in the Senate bill are removed by the House. A closer vote is expected if and when a conference committee version is completed.
Finally, given the increasing public opposition to nuclear power and the huge subsidies granted the nuclear industry in both versions, grassroots outreach and action focused on the nuclear spending and urging Senators to oppose the final bill is likely to be effective.
During debate on the Senate bill, for example, Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Lieberman (D-CT) offered their climate change legislation, which was recently changed to include billions of dollars in funding for new reactors, as an amendment. That legislation failed by a larger margin that in the last Congress - four Democrats: Harkin (IA), Boxer (CA), Feingold (WI) and Dayton (MN) who had previously supported the legislation voted against it because of the added nuclear funding provisions.
What you can do: Call your Senators toll-free at 877-762-8762 and urge them to oppose the polluters' energy bill and prevent taxpayer funding of new reactors. Then ask some friends and colleagues to call, and get the issue (and phone number!) out at meetings and gatherings of all types. Visit http://www.nukeretro.com/, watch the Nuke Retro animation, and send an e-mail to your Senator. And encourage everyone to sign the Petition for a Sustainable Energy Future at http://www.nirs.org.
Source and contact: Michael Mariotte at NIRS firstname.lastname@example.org
U.S.: HOUSE VOTES TO PREVENT LOANS FOR REACTORS IN CHINA
The U.S. House of Representatives voted decisively, by 313-114 on 30 June, to prohibit the U.S. Export-Import Bank from providing a US$5 billion loan guarantee to Westinghouse for the construction of four new reactors in China. The vote came on a bipartisan amendment led by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and was supported by a mixture of Republicans and Democrats.
It is not yet known whether a similar effort to prevent the loan, which would be necessary for the measure to become law, will occur in the Senate. The House vote does however send a clear message to Ex-Im not to proceed with the loan. The bank had given preliminary approval for the loan in February, but a more detailed assessment and final clearance is not expected until at least autumn.
The loan is controversial not only for the mere concept of providing advanced nuclear technology to China but also because Westinghouse, while based in Pittsburgh, is no long a U.S. COMPANY - British Nuclear Fuels, Ltd. (BNFL) owns it. In addition, BNFL has now put Westinghouse up for sale for US$1 billion, meaning it has valued the entire company at only 20% of the loan guarantee amount.
Internal Ex-Im documents reportedly describe the loan guarantee, the largest in Ex-Im history, as risky. According to the New York Times, the guarantee would be nearly three times larger than any previous package offered by the bank and would work out to about US$1 million per job created.
Several groups, including NIRS, Public Citizen, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense and US PIRG, urged the House to reject the loan guarantee.