Friday, January 30, 2009

No Friends of Champagne

Friends of the Earth logo We had a little fun with the Heritage Foundation earlier today, but at least it was in the context of some good ideas they’re putting forward. We thought we’d try a little balance and see what’s up in the environmental activist sphere – an inexact match, since environmentalism is hardly the sole province of liberals.

But while the Heritage Foundation couches their arguments in a comfy cocoon of ideological certainty, Friends of the Earth charges across the room blasting a shotgun in all directions. But that doesn’t mean they hit the target:

Senate appropriators voted yesterday to add a preemptive, up-to-$50-billion bailout for the nuclear industry to economic stimulus legislation.

The move was strongly criticized by Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder.

“The nuclear industry has given millions of dollars to politicians, an investment that appears to be paying off,” Blackwelder said. "Senators are supposed to be fixing the economy but instead they’re offering the nuclear industry a $50 billion gift that will create virtually no near-term jobs. It's unconscionable. Lobbyists are probably popping champagne corks as we speak.”

Oof! If lobbyists are popping champagne corks, it’s because they like champagne. So we yield that point to Blackwelder. But the rest is ludicrously off-target.

That $50 billion “bail-out” went to: renewable energy systems, advanced fossil energy technology, hydrogen fuel cells, advanced nuclear energy facilities, energy efficiency programs, transmission technologies, hybrid or diesel vehicles, and carbon capture and storage technology.

That should put bubbles into the noses of a lot of champagne drinkers and not just lobbyists – there are a lot of jobs in those industries and a whole lot of construction in the pipeline.

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Why would Friends of the Earth say something transparently untrue? CNN offers a possible explanation (talking about the loan guarantee provisions in the bill):

Although the legislative language leaves open the types of technology eligible for a government loan guarantee (as long as they substantially reduce greenhouse gases), some environmentalist organizations opposed to nuclear power are concerned that the measure could be used to fund new generation.

In other words, anti-drinking advocates are incensed the champagne business may get a boost. Well, that’s logical – we’d be pretty unhappy if the bill included funds to convert puppies to food (we’re against that), so if you don’t like nuclear energy, you’d be against this. But, in the words of President Obama, we won. Misrepresenting the win as a ghastly effort by drunken lobbyists to line congressional pockets to lock other energy sources out of the stimulus doesn’t change that. It’s children who spin outlandish stories when they get mad; an advocacy group behaving childishly risks losing credibility with its membership.

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Let’s fill out the story a little bit. Senate appropriators approved an additional $95 billion in loan guarantee authority for commercially proven renewable energy projects (and the transmission lines necessary to bring it to market.) The stimulus legislation approved by the House on Wednesday also provides an $80-billion increase in loan guarantees earmarked solely for renewables and transmission. Loan guarantees give banks a nudge to lend money for expensive capital projects by putting the force of government behind the loans – barring default, the government outlay is minimal. Nuclear projects can apply for these projects, but there’ll be a lot of competition.

And no “near-term jobs?” Wrong again, FOE. At the end of 2008, private investment in new nuclear power plants – and in manufacturing facilities to support new nuclear plant construction – has created an estimated 14,000 to 15,000 jobs. That’s the tip of an iceberg: as construction ramps up, so will the hiring.

And that’s just the nuclear industry. Look at the rest of the list above and you can see how these mature and nascent industries will be a significant stimulative agent.

Friends of the Earth says it “Champions a Clean and Just world.” We’ll grant them clean. It needs to work on just.

5 comments:

Luke said...

By the sounds of that example portfolio of technologies, I'd almost suspect that there is a good chance that most of this so-called "bail-out" (i.e. loan guarantees) will find its way into the hands of the coal industry for mendacious, non-existent "clean coal technology" - something that I would contend does not involve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore should be excluded from such policies regarding loan guarantees and such.

Trikone said...

Excellent post about puppies-as-food and whatnot, but in the interest of proper disclosure, to which you seem quite averse, let's list three undeniable facts:

1. Friends of the Earth is accurate in saying that "up to" or "much of" the $50 billion guarantees could fund your dangerous, financially unreliable nuclear reactors. They're not talking about other energy projects. They are very clearly and specifically opposing stimulus funding for your crazy projects.

2. The guarantees would, contrary to the whole point of the stimulus package, produce no substantial jobs in the next two years. And do you really expect us to believe that we'd be getting the bang for our buck by spending $50 BILLION to fund your promised trickle of 12,000 near-term jobs?

3. Private parties have completely refused to fund your unreliable and dangerous investments. Few in their right minds would support your proposals, which is why your pals Rep. Bennett and other shameless members of the Senate Appropriation Committee had to sneak it into the stimulus package without the knowledge of Congressional leaders.

If you're happy with your desperate backroom deals, at least have the guts to admit them when principled folks call you out on them.

And by the way, did you hear Rep. Bennett is now opposing the stimulus plan altogether? Good job picking your allies.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mark for responding to our release, but you may want to lay off the champagne just a bit, as I fear it might be leading to some overheated rhetoric.

After all, for someone who claims to be put off by misrepresentations, you seem to have a lot of them in your blog post.

Contrary to your post's assertions, our release was clear that not all of the $50 billion is necessarily going to the nuclear industry. What we said is "much" of the money is "likely" to go to a nuclear industry bailout. The veracity of this claim is underscored by your organization's interest in ensuring the bailout is included in the final bill.

We also never claimed that the nuclear industry's lobbyists are attempting "to lock other energy sources out of the stimulus."

Best,

Nick Berning
Friends of the Earth

Anonymous said...

Here is a very simple point. The Friends of the Earth claim on one hand that nuclear energy is uneconomic.

On the other hand, they also believe that if loan guarantees are provided for both renewable and nuclear projects, that utilities will invest mainly in new nuclear projects.

Utilities will have a lot of skin in the game, even with the loan guarantees, and are certainly doing due diligence to assure themselves that the projects are likely to be successful and that there will be a return to their shareholders and new capacity available for their ratepayers.

If renewable energy sources were actually competitive (e.g., if the backup generation needed to make wind work were not expensive, etc.), then utilities would not be taking on the headaches of working to build new nuclear plants.

FOE needs to be consistent, and either say that they oppose nuclear energy even though they believe that it is sufficiently economically competitive that many utilities would choose it over renewables, or not oppose these loan guarantees that open up a lot of funding for nonemitting technologies, both renewable and nuclear.

Rod Adams said...

@Trikone and Nick Berning:

It is false accounting to claim that a loan guarantee program is "spending" since no money moves from the guarantor to the recipient unless there is a default. One of the main reasons that the industry is interested in the program is that they want the government to have some stake in their success - so anti-nuclear activists have just a bit more difficulty convincing their hired hands in government to erect even more barriers to successful development.

There is no "sneaking" going on. I have watched recent hearings for the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee at which several senators have openly and repeatedly expressed their strong interest in enabling a new generation of nuclear power plants to be built.

As Senator Isakson stated during Al Gore's recent appearance at the Foreign Relations Committee, the structure that the government puts together has a great deal to do with whether or not private capital will back the plans.

However, it is a huge lie to repeated state that private capital is not already in the game - where is the public money in Unistar, Shaw Group, Northrop-Grumman, Babcock and Wilcox, Amarillo Power, NRG, Entergy, Progress Energy, FPL, Dominion, Areva, and dozens of other companies that are already investing in the capacity to build new nuclear plants and their components right here in the US?

I am well aware of the fact that big lies, repeated often enough, can become reality for some people. However, truth is also an important weapon and the job recruitment sites for the companies listed above provide ample evidence that the renaissance is happening despite all of your efforts to protect the existing energy industry from the hazards of nuclear competition.