Members, Musicians Attack Energy Bill for Nuclear 'Subsidies'

By Kelly Shaw, CongressNow

Tuesday, October 23, 2007 - Flanked by rock and roll icons, House lawmakers today sought to gin up liberal opposition to the current energy bill, saying that the measure condones subsidies to the nuclear energy industry.

“We are here today to speak out for an energy bill that has the potential to be the cleanest, greenest energy bill ever passed by the U.S. Congress,” said Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.). “However, we are also here because there are some elements attempting to hijack this bill and turn it into an automatic teller machine for an industry that is supposed to be standing on its own.”

Markey and the musicians — Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash — were referring to the push by the Nuclear Energy Institute and its allies to secure billions of dollars federal loan guarantees for nuclear-plant construction.

The industry, along with financial institutions, argue that the renewed push to use nuclear energy could be jeopardized without such federal assistance. The industry touts nuclear as a power source that could cut greenhouse gas emissions and is environmentally friendlier than the burning of coal or other fossil fuels. Today, nuclear power accounts for about one-fifth of the nation’s energy portfolio, according to NEI.

The appearance by members of Musicians for Safe Energy — a group founded in 1979, an era when the Three Mile Island nuclear accident was fresh in Americans’ minds — is part of a concerted public relations push to turn back what is considered the first favorable reassessment of nuclear power in decades. The group hosted the celebrated “No Nukes” concerts in Madison Square Garden in 1979.

At the event, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) urged the U.S. to spend more money investing in renewable energy. Berkley, like most Nevada politicians, opposes construction of the Yucca Mountain facility northwest of Las Vegas, which would be the national repository for radioactive waste generated by the nuclear industry.

“The music legends assembled here today are lending their voices to the call for an end to radioactive pork for the nuclear industry,” Berkley said. “Let’s stop creating more nuclear waste and start investing in power from the sun and wind.”

Nash said that he and his allies want “one sentence to be removed from the energy bill. … We need to get rid of loan guarantees for an industry that’s never supported itself,” Nash said.

Environmental groups joined the musicians in delivering a petition to Congress that opposes the loan guarantees for building new nuclear reactors. The petition currently has 120,000 signatures.

Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y) — himself a musician who performed with the group Orleans in the 1970s — touted the petition, saying it makes clear that environmentalists do not support nuclear energy, even though pro-nuclear advocates say it would help curb global warming.

“We don’t want to jump out of the global warming frying pan into the nuclear fire,” Hall said.

Supporters also alluded to the possible threat of nuclear terrorism. Representatives of Greenpeace visually portrayed this possibility with a short video depicting an airplane crashing into a nuclear plant.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who is running for president, also appeared at the press conference, but he did not get the opportunity to speak.

The musicians said they would continue to lobby Members of Congress for the rest of the day.