In what we might call a bid for equal time, we roamed around looking for some stories that took a more critical view of the Vogtle loan guarantees.
It must have been irresistible to The New York Times to see how environmentalists reacted and turned up, among others, our favorite group for reliable nuclear trash talk:
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.”
The Times’ John Broder points out that this really isn’t the case:
Mr. Obama has long supported nuclear power, as a senator and as a candidate for president.
That is the case. We would agree with Mr. Pica, though, that one might not have expected Obama to make quite such a high-profile announcement of the loan guarantee announcement.
Broder also points out that Obama has not exactly ignored core environmentalist concerns:
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.
The climate change bill seems to have hit the back burner, but there’s a fair amount of movement elsewhere.
(Broder also ignores that environmentalists and nuclear energy advocates are not mutually exclusive groups. It’s getting downright silly to pretend they are. Bigger topic, though – we’ll look at that issue another time.)
But it can seem that some environmentalists quoted in the story really only wish that the President had pushed nuclear energy down the road a piece and led with renewables. It may be he’s simply approaching this the other way around than they’d prefer and will come back to favored approach.
But we can scarcely blame FOE and the others in the article for wanting what they want and wanting it now – though they must know the tide is mostly with them lately - and the Times certainly caught them on a bad day. So we’re sympathetic even if just a little condescending.
We wondered how The National Review would welcome the news. The conservative magazine supports nuclear energy while tilting fairly strongly to Heritage Foundation-like absolutism on free market issues. We wondered which view would take precedence. Answer:
As a result, the nuclear industry is completely dependent on governmental approval, something that has turned it into yet another rent-seeking concern, latching on to the global warming bandwagon as its justification rather than the production of affordable, reliable, sustainable energy. In essence, the industry has happily become a ward of the state. This is not something conservatives should celebrate.
It’s not a terrible point and worth fuller debate, though we think the industry and nuclear advocates have used the “affordable, reliable, sustainable energy” argument plentifully. The fact that nuclear energy also answers to climate change issues seems a poor reason not to “latch onto” it.
No energy source in this country – which are, after all, not bounded by state lines – can be said to be free from government interaction. So the balance between private industry, public needs and safety considerations can always be tweaked one way or another. The editors see this:
The permitting process for getting a new nuclear plant built in this country is longer and more arduous than in most of the rest of the world. Litigation by environmental activists is a certainty. Construction also takes a long time (the new plants are predicted to be operational in 2016 and 2017, which is quite fast). Add these together and it can easily be 20 years from beginning the permitting process to turning the switch on, which makes it impossible to put together the requisite financing package without government loan guarantees.
This state of affairs has held sway through every conceivable partisan combination of President and Congress since the 80s without appreciable change. Obama and a Democratic Congress probably isn’t the combination most likely to look for change in this regard.
That’s also a little too much certainly in the editors’ formulation than we’re comfortable with, as we doubt they would want to exchange our approach with, say, that of China or France or Russia, where nuclear energy is state controlled. But as we say, debatable points. Engage away at the link.