Nuclear Energy Votes Could Doom Senate Climate Change Legislation

June 3, 2008  9:28 p.m.
By Avery Palmer and Coral Davenport, CQ Staff

Sponsors of the Senate's climate change legislation have prepared a
nuclear energy amendment that is designed to win crucial votes for the
bill without destroying the delicate coalition that already supports

But the proposal, which includes noncontroversial nuclear science and
education provisions, is unlikely to satisfy those who are looking for
more sweeping action to expand the industry.

The nuclear issue will become a cornerstone of the debate on the bill
(S 3036) as the Senate begins to consider amendments. Votes on some
measures could happen Wednesday, but it is unclear when
nuclear-related amendments will be debated.

A number of senators have signaled they cannot support the bill unless
it contains incentives for nuclear plants, which do not emit the
greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

At the same time, the environmental groups that want the United States
to control its greenhouse gas emissions - and whose Senate allies are
the core of the bill's support - are highly skeptical of the nuclear

The legislation's original sponsors, Joseph I. Lieberman , I-Conn.,
and John W. Warner , R-Va., as well as Thomas R. Carper , D-Del., have
prepared an amendment that would provide funding for nuclear science
education and workforce training. It also includes sense-of-the-Senate
language stating that Congress should stimulate private investment in
nuclear projects.

One of their targets is John McCain of Arizona, the presumed
Republican presidential nominee. Although he has sponsored global
warming legislation in the past, he has staked his support this year
on expanded incentives for nuclear plants.

At the same time, major incentives for nuclear plants could siphon
support from environmentalists concerned about the safety of the
industry. Barbara Boxer , chairwoman of the Environment and Public
Works Committee, said this week that she would likely accept some
amendments on nuclear power, such as provisions for worker training or
plant safety.

"We're looking for the sweet spot of legislation, and we're very
hopeful we can do it," said Boxer, D-Calif., who is not a cosponsor of
the Warner-Lieberman amendment.

Meanwhile, Johnny Isakson , R-Ga., is preparing an amendment to
provide an investment tax credit for nuclear power facilities and
incentives for domestic manufacturing of nuclear equipment. It would
also encourage loan guarantees for nuclear technologies and align
accelerated tax depreciation rules for nuclear power plants with those
for renewable-fuels facilities.
A Struggling Industry

Despite the benefits of nuclear power in fighting global warming, the
nuclear industry has struggled because of factors such as the cost of
building new plants and concerns about safety. No new nuclear plant
has been built in the United States since the Three Mile Island
disaster in 1979.

Lawmakers would also have to resolve the perennial question of how to
deal with nuclear waste disposal. On Tuesday, the Department of Energy
announced it had submitted a license application to the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission for authorization to conduct a repository at
Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
Nuclear Energy Votes Could Doom Senate Climate Change Legislation

James M. Inhofe , R-Okla., may offer an amendment that incorporates
his bill (S 2551) to overhaul the licensing process for Yucca
Mountain. But Majority Leader Harry Reid , D-Nev., a longstanding
opponent of the project, rejected such legislation out of hand: "Yucca
Mountain is panting for air. It's as close to being dead as any piece
of any legislation can be."

Even if the Senate does not pass climate legislation this year, the
role of nuclear power will be a key question for the next Congress.

"I don't see how you can possibly get to a world of significantly
reduced CO2 emissions without more nuclear," said Dr. Victor Reis, a
senior adviser to the Energy secretary who has served in both the
Clinton and Bush administrations. "But I don't see any way this can
get through this Congress, so I am speaking in terms of the challenge
for the next administration."

The bill would cap emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that
scientists say contribute to global warming at 19 percent below
current levels by 2020 and 71 percent by 2050. Utilities and other
polluters could reduce their own emissions or buy allowances on a
so-called carbon market. The government would distribute some
allowances free and auction the rest, spending the money on compliance
costs and investment in clean technologies.

When the Senate begins considering amendments, Reid said he does not
plan to use a procedural tactic known as filling the amendment tree to
limit the number of proposals offered by senators. Instead, he would
like to work out a "gentlemen's agreement" with Republicans, allowing
about five amendments on either side.

The Senate is also likely to take up a number of amendments dealing
with the cost of the bill to energy consumers. Christopher S. Bond ,
R-Mo., said he wants to address the bill's effect on trucking
companies that are struggling with high diesel prices.

Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has introduced alternative
legislation (S1766) that sets less-stringent targets for reducing
greenhouse gas emissions. He plans to offer one amendment to include
those targets in the current legislation, and another to include a
"safety valve" that would limit the price of emission allowances.

Specter cited the need to deal with global warming "within the
realistic bounds that technology is going to permit."

Debbie Stabenow , D-Mich., is working with a bipartisan group seeking
to expand the opportunity to comply with the bill through special
projects, known as offsets. These reduce burdens on industrial sources
and provide financial opportunities for the agricultural and forestry
industries. The goal is to "involve agriculture more in the solution,"
she said.

Rhonda Roff, President
Save It Now, Glades!
PO Box 1953
Clewiston, FL 33440