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Gavin Newsom: A Letter on EIRs at Diablo Canyon

Editor's Note:  California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom has written the following letter on his vote as a member of the California Lands Commission to not require Environmental Impact Reports at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant.  The letter was addressed to his aunt, Cindy Asner, who has given us permission to publish it here.  Please send all responses to me at solartopia@gmail.com with a URL that will allow me to post a link on this site.  No Nukes, HarveyW


Cindy:  On the one hand I have Fukushima etched in my memory, and on the other hand we are tackling fossil-fuel driven climate change as a state. These two existential problems are paradoxical where nuclear power is concerned. If I could decommission Diablo Canyon and replace it responsibly without increased carbon emissions tomorrow, I would do it. But that was not a realistic option before us. We did, however, use the threat of this lease renewal to force PG&E into address the long-term future of nuclear power in California --- which will now end, categorically, in 2025 and be replaced only by renewable GHG-free sources of energy. 

When California’s last nuclear plant, San Onofre, ceased operations overnight the state was forced to replace its lost output with natural gas sources. In effect, California lost a non-GHG emitting source of power at San Onofre and was forced to replace it with a GHG spewing natural gas (which in some cases is extracted through fracking). 1,100 working Californians lost their jobs overnight. Wholesale energy prices skyrocketed, hitting consumers indiscriminately of financial means. Typically, those who could least afford it were hit hardest. The rushed closure of that plant was lose-lose for everyone: our climate, our economy, our workforce.

This decision on Diablo Canyon was incredibly complex and of no surprise to me that decisions have been avoided. There’s been a deafening vacuum of political leadership on Diablo Canyon, of politicians too afraid to challenge the status quo and address an issue without instant political upside.

Until now. In partnership with Betty, we have accomplished concessions from PG&E that will ring alarm bells around the world and sets a new chapter in energy history. This is what we accomplished:

1. The closure of California’s last nuclear plant in 2025 at the latest.

2. A signed and written agreement that the lost power of Diablo Canyon can only be replaced by a combination of renewable energy and energy efficiencies

3. The written public acknowledgement, for the first time, by a major utility corporation that renewable energy is more cost efficient than nuclear power.

4. The written public acknowledgement, for the first time, by a major utility corporation that the era of baseload power is over, and that renewable sources can carry the weight of energy production.

5. A signed and written agreement that PG&E will provide 55% of its entire energy sales through renewable sources, from 2031.

6. A signed and written agreement from PG&E that it will implement a fair employee retirement, redeployment and retraining program for its Diablo Canyon workforce of 1,500 men and women, to protect those workers and their families from unemployment and hardship.

7. A signed and written agreement from PG&E to backfill lost Diablo Canyon revenues to the county of San Luis Obispo, to minimize the impact on the public services like schools that we all so deeply cherish.

Those who called for an EIR review have not been able to explain what it would accomplish above and beyond these concessions. My call for an EIR in December was not as a legal statement, but means to bring PG&E to the table. I know EIRs intimately. They were used against my business by a neighbor who did not support my decision to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in 2004, in defiance of state and federal law. Like all EIRs, it was designed to slow down the process of moving forward not accelerating it. I also know this: had we opted for an EIR, it would have been appealed. A court would have eventually adjudicated and it would have been appealed, and appealed again, and appealed again. The court process on an EIR of this magnitude would take years to resolve and ultimately, in my judgment, would have sided with PG&E on whether or not the State Lands Commission was able to conduct an EIR on the existing and unaltered intake and outtake pipes that were before us for lease renewal.

In my judgment, the net result of an EIR would have been years of protracted court agreements, a win for PGE, and no solution on Diablo Canyon. Even had an EIR been upheld, we’re looking at near-identical timelines for the plants closure, without the guarantees of its replacement by 100% renewable energy sources and energy efficiencies, without the 55% renewable portfolio, without the head-turning global acknowledgement on the benefit of renewables over nuclear and baseload power structures, and without the worker and community protections.

I recognize that no good deed goes unpunished. It’s a price I’ve paid in taking on the NRA, big tobacco, oil companies, plastic bag industry, the church, and more. It’s the price of leadership.

Diablo Canyon will close by 2025. We have secured monumental environmental victories and honorable protections for workers and public services. Along with Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council, I am committed to holding PG&E accountable to their agreement. 

Gavin