Skip to main content

The Lieberman-Warner Bill: The Players Line Up

Boxer The Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act tries to come to grips with global warming. Nuclear energy can and likely will make a substantial contribution to the effort but the bill is so freighted with implications for so many vested interests (and their supporters) that getting the bill passed in a coherent form will take a titanic amount of will power and resolve.

The Senate in particular may find this a tough hurdle, in part because the November elections could leave the Democrats with a veto-proof majority - an outside chance, certainly, but a chance. That makes stepping carefully into this bill a priority for the Republicans; they already suffer, rather unfairly, as ecological recidivists in a year in which global warming has become a major issue for voters. Conversely, some Democrats (Lieberman is an Independent who caucuses with the Dems) already see President Bush's opposition and a possible filibuster as bill-killers but gets things set up for the next president.

The measure's sponsors believe that getting a majority of senators to back the bill would be a show of strength, laying the groundwork for passage in the next Congress under a new president.

"However far we take it, it is very important to start now," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and has been shepherding the bill through the Senate.

So there is an aura of political theater here, likely also with an eye on the elections. But:

"It seems unlikely that as American families face harsh economic times that any senator would dare stand on the Senate floor and vote in favor of significantly increasing the price of gas at the pump and costing millions of American jobs - all for no environmental gain," said Matt Dempsey, communications director for Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Remember, Sen. Inhofe is the leading global-warming-is-hooey figure in the Senate. Frankly, despite his best efforts, that ice floe has melted (even if his economic argument mirrors that of President Bush; see below). The timing of this bill is going to make global warming even more of an issue in the upcoming presidential election and for all the down-ticket races as well.


How much does President Bush dislike this bill? He has issued a Statement of Administration Policy that lays it all out for you. The main problem is that the bill, in the administration's view, trades an possible ecological disaster for a likely economic one (warning: pdf):

S. 3036 is likely to severely damage the economy and drive jobs overseas. As an example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Energy Information Administration have estimated, respectively, that the bill as reported could reduce U.S. Gross Domestic Product by as much as seven percent (over $2.8 trillion) in 2050, and reduce U.S. manufacturing output by almost 10 percent in 2030 -- before even half of the bill's required reductions have taken effect.

And that's just the tip of that iceberg. Read all of Bush's statement for a lot more in the same vein. In its present state, which of course will be heavily impacted by amendments that might sweeten it, the bill is a non-starter for the White House.


So, noting the name of this blog, what about nuclear energy?

Nuclear power is likely to be one of the thorniest issues in the debate. Republican opponents of the bill are expected to offer amendments to boost nuclear energy, which critics call "poison pill" amendments because they could erode support for the bill among Democrats who oppose an expansion of nuclear power.

We would counter that many Democrats have found a place for nuclear energy in their thinking - this seems a bit 2002 to us - and that the Republicans know Sen. McCain, a supporter of a larger role for nuclear energy, could swing votes towards the bill. We'll see.

Early days. Stay tuned.

Picture of Senator Boxer, courtesy Getty Images.


Joseph Somsel said…
I guess we just have to admit that the Nuclear Energy Institute is a "special interest" - my special interest, to be sure, but tasked with making government more profitable for only a subset of Americans.

Your assertion that "the ice floe has melted" may sound like Gospel truth inside the Beltway but I sure don't see anything like certainty in the people I talk with, even here in California.

The REAL public debate has just begun. Nothing like higher gasoline and energy taxes to focus the minds of voters.

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear Is a Long-Term Investment for Ohio that Will Pay Big

With 50 different state legislative calendars, more than half of them adjourn by June, and those still in session throughout the year usually take a recess in the summer. So springtime is prime time for state legislative activity. In the next few weeks, legislatures are hosting hearings and calling for votes on bills that have been battered back and forth in the capital halls.

On Tuesday, The Ohio Public Utilities Committee hosted its third round of hearings on the Zero Emissions Nuclear Resources Program, House Bill 178, and NEI’s Maria Korsnick testified before a jam-packed room of legislators.

Washingtonians parachuting into state debates can be a tricky platform, but in this case, Maria’s remarks provided national perspective that put the Ohio conundrum into context. At the heart of this debate is the impact nuclear plants have on local jobs and the local economy, and that nuclear assets should be viewed as “long-term investments” for the state. Of course, clean air and electrons …