Remarks: Nuclear Energy Institute’s 2009 Nuclear Energy Assembly and Annual Meeting
*** As Prepared for Delivery ***
"Good morning and thank you for inviting me to be with you today. I appreciate the opportunity to join you during your 2009 Nuclear Energy Assembly. Thank you to Marvin Fertel and Alex Flint with NEI for the invitation.
"At the end of the last Congress, an incredible proponent and leading voice for the nuclear industry stepped down from public office. I cannot adequately express how important Senator Pete Domenici's leadership was in moving forward the current resurgence of nuclear power in the United States, and how grateful I am to have been mentored by him on nuclear issues.
"While Pete is certainly missed, I am here to report that all is not lost.
"We have a group of advocates in the Senate, spread across the nuclear spectrum, that collectively will continue to push the nuclear renaissance.
"Senator Bennett took the reins on trying to expand the loan guarantee program in the stimulus funding bill.
"Senators Sessions, Alexander and Landrieu are heading up efforts to advance nuclear fuel reprocessing.
"Senators McCain, Voinovich and Risch are leading voices on the storage of nuclear waste.
"I have been involved with all of these issues and I've been working on nuclear workforce development and trying to include nuclear energy in Chairman Bingaman's Renewable Electricity Standard.
"I believe support for nuclear energy remains strong in the Senate on both sides of the aisle, and I am hopeful this Congress will continue to move forward on the progress achieved in the last two comprehensive energy bills.
"So far, the Energy Committee has marked-up legislation that will:
- Support the development and expansion of our energy workforce, including those in the nuclear industry;
- Double the authorized funding level for nuclear research and development in Title IX of the Energy Policy Act of 2005; and
- Reform the Loan Guarantee Program through the Clean Energy Deployment Administration that will assist in the financing of new nuclear reactors.
"At our markup yesterday, I tried to build on that progress with an amendment that would have reaffirmed our commitment to supporting nuclear energy as a strategic asset, as well as the federal government's obligation to provide for the safe management of spent nuclear fuel;
"It also would have created a nuclear energy advisory council within the Department of Energy and an inter-agency working group in the administration to work on nuclear issues.
"It also included elements of the SMART bill to help private industry with the costs of engineering and licensing commercial-scale reprocessing facilities.
"And finally it would have authorized the Secretary of Energy to negotiate temporary storage agreements with utilities to resolve the taxpayers' liability under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
"Unfortunately, the amendment failed on a tie vote with one member absent. We did have the support of Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and I'm grateful to her for having the foresight to understand our need for more emission-free nuclear energy. I'm hopeful we will be able to include these provisions at a latter date.
"Despite some setbacks, progress is being made. Nuclear is moving forward. Unfortunately, we are running into strong headwinds from the administration.
"The administration has talked about the important role of nuclear energy in reducing the amount of greenhouse gases we emit. But, so far, their actions have not measured up to their rhetoric.
"The new chairman of FERC, John Wellinghoff, has said there may be no reason to build new nuclear plants. He's convinced renewable energy can provide the baseload capacity to meet our growing power needs. Is this inconsistent with the administration's position? Perhaps not.
I feel like the administration is playing a new game of "Where's Waldo" - only this time it is called "Where's Nuclear." We will need to search carefully to find the resurgence of the nuclear industry in the administration's energy policies.
So far this Administration has:
- sought to kill Yucca Mountain as a long-term repository for spent nuclear fuel;
- shown an unwillingness to increase the Loan Guarantee Program funding levels to support the construction of new nuclear plants; and
- has focused on renewable and alternative fuel development to reduce our carbon emissions without any mention of nuclear energy.
"Where nuclear energy truly stands with the current administration is bit of a mystery.
"For 10 years now we've heard consistently about the urgency of global climate change and the need to address it. I agree that there's evidence of climate change - we can see the real life affects of it in Alaska - but I find it inconsistent that the same entities who press for immediate action also deny nuclear a role in the solution.
CLIMATE CHANGE LEGISLATION
"The administration has made climate change legislation a top priority but, so far, the only cap-and-trade proposal moving forward is the Waxman-Markey bill over in the House. It remains to be seen whether Chairman Waxman can get the bill out of Energy and Commerce Committee.
"House Democrats have so far been able to get away with only talking to themselves on the specifics of cap-and-trade. It's unknown if they have the necessary 60 votes on the Senate side to pass such a bill. But regardless, they will have to include Republicans in the discussion if they want to succeed.
"I believe we need a robust, detailed and lengthy debate about the pros and cons of addressing global climate change through a cap-and-trade program - especially in our current economic situation - and that has not even begun in the Senate.
"In comparison to the House, the Senate EPW committee has held no markups and hasn't even introduced language to consider. The most we have seen from the majority is a one-page list of principles on climate change legislation.
"Despite the lack of progress on climate change in the Senate, the Energy Committee has made real progress on promoting policies that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"The centerpiece of that effort is the Clean Energy Deployment Administration Act, which will promote development of clean energy technologies without imposing new mandates or regulatory burdens.
"My concern is that any progress we're able to achieve in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions will be undone if the Democratic leadership insists on attaching climate legislation onto the energy bill. As tough as it will be to find 60 votes to pass an energy bill, it will be next to impossible to get 60 on a combined energy and climate bill.
NEED YOUR HELP
"In order to ensure that nuclear has a role to play in the energy and climate change debate, Congressional supporters need your help. You are well aware of the administration's proposed Blue Ribbon Commission - essentially their alternative to Yucca Mountain. We need your help to make sure the administration does the right thing even though it is, in my view, on the wrong path.
"We need to make sure the administration:
- selects the right people for the commission;
- expands the scope of the commission to look at a nuclear energy policy in its entirety - not just a nuclear waste policy; and
- ensures the independence of the commission.
"We need to work on the administration to support the work of the Energy Committee on reprocessing and storage.
"We need your active participation to move the nuclear agenda forward. It's time the administration come forward with its plan for the inclusion of nuclear power in its overall energy policy - and what it intends to do with existing and future spent nuclear fuel. We shouldn't be forced to ask, "Where's Nuclear?"
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