When a new administration takes over, there are always some moments of dread, even among those constituencies that might expect to benefit. The change in Washington over the last two elections, however, has been seismic in nature, with the Republicans further out of power than at any time in my adult life, and the Democrats working the levers of power with considerable skill if not always with polish. So the dread is of the unexpected, the unknown, the unforeseen.
Now, it’s practically a truism that the two parties are closer together than not in terms of policy, and it’s certainly true compared to Europe, where splinter parties act as hot wires at the far ends of local politics to give their governing coalitions a solid jolt. So while the shiver of the needle slightly leftward may cause the French to yawn, it’s dizzying enough for many Americans.
The post below about DOE Secretary Chu provides some indication what the nuclear industry has to wrap its collective mind around. But even some events not specifically nuclear-driven or motivated have large potential consequences. Take the regulation of carbon emissions:
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to act for the first time to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists blame for the warming of the planet, according to top Obama administration officials.
The decision, which most likely would play out in stages over a period of months, would have a profound impact on transportation, manufacturing costs and how utilities generate power. It could accelerate the progress of energy and climate change legislation in Congress and form a basis for the United States’ negotiating position at United Nations climate talks set for December in Copenhagen.
Here’s the thing: the story indicates that the Clean Air Act might be the basis for action, but cap-and-trade and even a carbon tax seem more likely because they have greater potential to mitigate carbon emissions without warping the economy. (See here for why the Clean Air Act might not be a great vehicle for driving this – it more-or-less lines up with our view.)
Here’s an example of this line of concern, from the NYT:
"Potentially, it's a huge mess, not only for E.P.A. but for state regulatory agencies, because the Clean Air Act is second only to the Internal Revenue Code in terms of complexity," said Mr. [Jeffrey] Holmstead, now director of environmental strategies at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani.
He said that under the clean air law any source emitting more than 250 tons of a declared pollutant would be subject to regulation, potentially including schools, hospitals, shopping centers, even bakeries, which has prompted some critics to call it the "Dunkin' Donuts rule."
(The story should have mentioned Holmstead’s previous history as a Washington lobbyist for energy concerns. That certainly adds, shall we say, inflection to his comments.)
Now, here’s the other thing, from candidate Obama’s energy plan (pdf):
Obama believes that the imperative to confront climate change requires that we prevent a new wave of traditional coal facilities in the U.S. and work aggressively to transfer low-carbon coal technologies around the world.
Clean coal got a shout-out during the campaign, which the coal industry has featured in ads like a condemned man hanging onto the kind words of his executioner. Will clean coal get to where it needs to be before the trap door swings open? Well, maybe: these things don’t happen overnight.
As our various posts about state actions regarding nuclear energy suggest, the states are outrunning the feds in understanding how nuclear becomes a most plausible energy generator if a carbon emission switch is suddenly flipped.
Well, the hand is now reaching toward that switch, with everything happening afterward unknown, bound to be a bit unexpected, dare we say a little uncanny. There it is: your moment of dread.
It’s just a guy carrying a scythe summoning the ferryman. From Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr (1931), a film that incarnates the moment of dread.