Posts tagged ‘nuclear power plants’

Oil spill seen as energy opportunity for Obama

Some environmentalists and liberal lawmakers believe the BP oil spill has handed President Obama a significant political opportunity to renew his stalled energy and climate bill, and are urging him to push for sweeping legislation to move the country away from reliance on oil and other fossil fuels.

An oil boom stretches across an opening in Lake Eloie near Shell Beach, La.

“He needs a response which is as big as the spill is,” said Wesley Warren, program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington.

The climate bill that White House officials have been negotiating called for limited greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, transportation fuels and eventually factories. It included large incentives for drilling offshore, nuclear power plant construction and so-called “clean-coal” technology. It also would have required set levels of renewable electricity use nationwide. The bill included several sweeteners to minimize the cost for industry.

But that bill has bogged down in the Senate. And while White House officials continue to call for an energy bill this year, Obama has not publicly linked the call to the gulf spill.

Many environmentalists believe it will now be politically easier now to strengthen the clean-energy provisions of the bill and jettison industry breaks. But many longtime energy analysts say Obama’s options are limited for reducing the nation’s reliance on oil.

“In the near term — near term being 20 years — there is no meaningful alternative to using oil in the transportation sector” on a wide scale, said Charles Ebinger, director of the energy security initiative at the Brookings Institution.

Still, the nation’s reliance on gasoline means choosing between imported oil or increased domestic production — and there, the gulf spill may have an impact.

All signs from Capitol Hill suggest that Obama’s expanded drilling plans will find little support in light of the BP leak.

Environmental groups want the administration to push for enhanced oil recovery on land, especially if gasoline prices spike again and public pressure mounts for more domestic production.

Some drilling advocates are pushing the administration to keep its response to the spill narrowly focused.

“Getting to the bottom of this, considering adding safeguards, things that could prevent this spill from happening again and things getting out of hand” — those should be Obama’s focus, said Ben Lieberman, an energy expert at the free-market Heritage Foundation.

Many economists say Obama’s best chance to reframe the energy debate — and dramatically cut oil use — could also be the least popular—a large gasoline tax on gasoline, with the proceeds dedicated to alternative fuel research, reducing the federal budget deficit, or even refunded to consumers.

White House officials pushed back against a modest proposed fee on gasoline in negotiations over a Senate climate bill.

In an interview Tuesday, one of Obama’s top energy advisors, Carol Browner, said “There’s no doubt that portions of the debate are going to change” because of the gulf spill.

She added: “We want to evaluate, at the end of the day, are we doing what we can to break our dependence on foreign oil… are we putting a cap on dangerous greenhouse-gas pollution? There’s more than one way to get it done.”

If Obama can’t sell an energy transformation after this spill, Ebinger said, “He will miss a unique opportunity to point out to the people, ‘This is a situation we got ourselves into… let’s not be sitting here five to 10 years from now and be saying, we didn’t do anything to address it.'”

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May 5, 2010 at 10:14 AM Leave a comment

Vermont towns want nuclear power plant shut

In their annual town meeting on Tuesday, folks in this Vermont ski town voted on a town budget, debated the need for a new roof on the fire department building and adjourned at lunchtime to nosh on Tracey Coutts’ famous “yummy chicken pieces” casserole and cherry pie.

But at this year’s annual exercise in New England-style democracy they also weighed in on a debate that has consumed lawmakers in Montpelier and dominated radio talk shows and newspaper opinion pages: the continued operation of an aging nuclear power plant whose “leaks and lies” are fueling a push to close it.

People in Waitsfield and 13 other towns approved resolutions urging the state Legislature to pull the plug on the Vermont Yankee plant. One town voted against the measure and another opted not to take it up Tuesday. Though nonbinding, organizers hope the votes will give further momentum to a movement to stop it from operating past 2012. Voters here have had this direct democracy privilege since colonial days.

The 38-year-old power plant, which supplies about one-third of Vermont’s electricity, is scheduled to close in two years, but owner Entergy Corp. is seeking permission to run it for another 20 years.

Normally, the decision would be solely in the hands of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Not in Vermont: It’s the only state with a law giving the Legislature a say in the relicensing of a nuclear plant. And on Tuesday, regular people had their say, too.

State Senate voted to close
Last week, the state Senate voted overwhelmingly against continued operation, though Entergy may go to court to challenge the state’s authority.

The plant, which sits on the banks of the Connecticut River in the town of Vernon, has always endured a love-hate relationship with the state and its residents.

The relationship has soured in recent weeks with the discovery of leaking radioactive tritium at the plant and admissions by plant officials that they misled state regulators about the extent of underground piping on the property.

“Either they’re lying or they’re incompetent, and neither one is good when you’re talking about a nuclear power plant,” said Carol Hosford, of Waitsfield.

On Tuesday, she stood outside Waitsfield Elementary School, handing out slips of paper urging town meeting voters to support Item No. 13 on the agenda, which urged state lawmakers to turn thumbs-down on the relicensing and require Entergy to shore up a “decommissioning fund” of money to be used to render it safe once it’s shut down.

Even some nuclear power supporters say it’s time to pull the plug.

“I’m very much in favor of nuclear power, but I’m not in favor of continuing Vermont Yankee,” said Dave Beach, 81, a retired Eastman-Kodak camera designer who lives in Stowe. “(Nuclear power) is nonpolluting and can be run properly. It’s just that Vermont Yankee’s not being properly managed.”

Article continues HERE

March 3, 2010 at 11:25 AM Leave a comment

Environmental Advocates Are Cooling on Obama

There has been no more reliable cheerleader for President Obama’s energy and climate change policies than Daniel J. Weiss of the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

But Mr. Obama’s recent enthusiasm for nuclear power, including his budget proposal to triple federal loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors to $54 billion, was too much for Mr. Weiss.

The president’s embrace of nuclear power was disappointing, and the wrong way to go about winning Republican votes, he said, adding that Mr. Obama should not be endorsing such a costly and potentially catastrophic energy alternative “as bait just to get talks started with pro-nuke senators.”

The early optimism of environmental advocates that the policies of former President George W. Bush would be quickly swept away and replaced by a bright green future under Mr. Obama is for many environmentalists giving way to resignation, and in some cases, anger.

Mr. Obama moved quickly in his first months in office, producing a landmark deal on automobile emissions, an Environmental Protection Agency finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, a virtual moratorium on oil drilling on public lands and House passage of a cap-and-trade bill.

Since then, in part because of the intense focus on the health care debate last year, action on environmental issues has slowed. The Senate has not yet begun debate on a comprehensive global warming bill, the Interior Department is writing new rules to open some public lands and waters to oil drilling and the E.P.A. is moving cautiously to apply the endangerment finding.

Environmental advocates largely remained silent late last year as Mr. Obama all but abandoned his quest for sweeping climate change legislation and began to reach out to Republicans to enact less ambitious clean energy measures.

But the grumbling of the greens has grown louder in recent weeks as Mr. Obama has embraced nuclear power, offshore oil drilling and “clean coal” as keystones of his energy policy. And some environmentalists have expressed concern that the president may be sacrificing too much to placate Republicans and the well-financed energy lobbies.

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, whose political arm endorsed Mr. Obama’s candidacy for president, said that Mr. Obama’s recent policy emphasis amounted to “unilateral disarmament.”

“We were hopeful last year; he was saying all the right things,” Mr. Pica said. “But now he has become a full-blown nuclear power proponent, a startling change over the last few months.”

Mr. Obama said in his remarks on the nuclear project this week that he knew his policies were alienating some environmentalists.

“Now, there will be those that welcome this announcement, those who think it’s been long overdue,” Mr. Obama said of the new nuclear loan guarantee. “But there are also going to be those who strongly disagree with this announcement. The same has been true in other areas of our energy debate, from offshore drilling to putting a price on carbon pollution. But what I want to emphasize is this: Even when we have differences, we cannot allow those differences to prevent us from making progress.”

Mr. Obama has long supported nuclear power, as a senator and as a candidate for president. Employees of the Exelon Corporation, the Chicago-based utility that is the largest operator of nuclear plants in the United States, have been among Mr. Obama’s biggest campaign donors, giving more than $330,000 over his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In response to criticism of some of its energy policies, the White House points to its clean energy investments, including $80 billion in stimulus spending on energy-related projects, and its continuing support for comprehensive climate and energy legislation. But critics in the green movement say they wish the president would play a more active role in the climate debate.

“I think we all had higher hopes,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We expected a lot in the first year, and everyone agrees they didn’t quite live up to it. But there is recognition that he and the whole administration will get another stab at it.”

Mr. Snape said his group was particularly disappointed that the administration did not designate the polar bear as endangered by global warming and that it could not push a climate change bill through Congress.

“You can’t get anything right,” he said, “unless you get the polar bear right.”

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the administration’s most stalwart supporters up to now, also expressed disappointment in the president’s new focus on nuclear power and his mention in the State of the Union address of “clean coal technologies.”

Mr. Obama was referring to the prospect of capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, an as-yet-unproven technology. He was sending a signal to members of Congress from states that are dependent on mining coal or that burn it for electricity that any legislation he supported would accommodate their concerns.

“N.R.D.C. knows there is no such thing as ‘clean coal,’ ” Ms. Beinecke wrote in a blog post after the State of the Union address. “Every single step in the coal power cycle is dirty, from the profoundly destructive mountaintop removal mining to the smokestack emissions, which are responsible for 24,000 deaths a year.”

Eric Haxthausen, the United States climate policy director for the Nature Conservancy, has generally supported the administration’s goals and actions on energy and environment, although he said they fell short of what was needed to address global warming.

He said that Mr. Obama’s pledge at the United Nations conference in Copenhagen on climate change to reduce American emissions by 17 percent by 2020 compared with 2005 levels had raised the stakes. The United States government is now on record promising the world that it will take major steps to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, Mr. Haxthausen said.

“What’s needed to give this process life is a binding agent,” he said, “some force to bring these things together, and the White House has to be intimately involved. The reality is there’s a bit of a bully pulpit role that’s needed, and the question is, will the administration deliver.”

February 19, 2010 at 11:42 AM 1 comment

Obama pledges $8 billion for new nuclear reactors

Reporting from Los Angeles and Washington – Seeking common ground with Republicans on energy and climate issues, President Obama on Tuesday pledged $8 billion in loan guarantees needed to build the first U.S. nuclear reactors in nearly three decades.

The move, along with a tripling of nuclear loan guarantees in the president’s budget, represents a new federal commitment to the low-carbon-emitting, but highly controversial, nuclear power sector long championed by the GOP.

Industry groups and Republican leaders praised the announcement, which has been expected for months, but some environmentalists and free-market think tanks protested.

Speaking at a training center at the Lanham, Md., headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 26, the president spoke favorably of nuclear power as part of a mix of energy alternatives to oil.

“In order to truly harness our potential in clean energy, we’ll have to do more,” Obama said. “In the near term, as we transition to cleaner energy sources, we’ll have to make tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. We’ll need to make continued investments in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies, even as we build greater capacity in renewables like wind and solar.

“And we’ll have to build a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in America,” he said.

Obama said his administration would supply about $8 billion in loan guarantees to build two new reactors at an existing nuclear power plant in Burke, Ga., providing thousands of construction jobs in the next few years and about 800 permanent jobs in the years to come.

Free-market groups complained that the loan guarantees could leave taxpayers on the hook for projects too risky for the private sector to finance.

Many environmentalists echoed the concerns and warned that the administration had not mapped a strategy for safe, long-term storage of radioactive waste.

“We’re not really seeing anything but drawbacks to another corporate bailout that gives new meaning to the phrase ‘toxic asset,’ ” said Jim Riccio, nuclear policy analyst for Greenpeace. “It is a dirty and dangerous distraction from the clean energy future the president promised America.”

Obama noted environmentalist opposition in his remarks but insisted that clean, safe nuclear power was environmentally preferable to burning coal in outdated plants.

Many environmental groups were muted or subdued in their criticism Tuesday — a reflection of the delicate politics surrounding ongoing efforts to pass energy and climate legislation in Congress.

Many large conservation groups appear to be tacitly accepting the need to increase federal nuclear support — along with offshore oil and gas drilling, another environmentalist anathema — to attract Republican votes for a measure to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

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February 17, 2010 at 12:34 PM Leave a comment

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