Just as the Obama Administration rolled out its Clean Power Plan (CPP) another published scientific study disclosed the world’s glaciers are melting at a “historically unprecedented” rate, twice as fast as the previous decade. The good news amid such calamity is that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final rule on climate is a significant first step aimed at cutting U.S. global warming emissions from its coal-fired electricity generation. The new rule ranks renewable energy (such as solar photo-voltaics, and wind power -- see photo, left) and energy efficiency as the Best Systems of Emissions Reduction (BSER) for replacement energy. It also casts increasing doubt on the continued operation of more than a dozen “economically at-risk” U.S. nuclear power plants.
The EPA’s final rule states “the main impact of this rule on the nation’s mix of generation will be to reduce coal-fired generation, but in an amount and by a rate that is consistent with recent historical declines in coal-fired generation… the trends for all other types of generation, including natural gas-fired generation, nuclear generation, and renewable generation, will remain generally consistent with what their trends would be in the absence of this rule.”
Those same trends already demonstrate that nuclear power’s false promise is consistently trumped by “a real-time revolution in efficiency-plus-renewables-plus-storage.”
Still, the nuclear industry and its champions are keeping their spin on it. The Administration’s EPA does grant two concessions important to the nuclear industry expansion agenda. First, the rule eases pressure on state emission reduction compliance standards by not penalizing those states for the potential failure-to-complete any of the five economically bankrupt nuclear generator projects currently under construction in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Tennessee’s Watts Bar 2 project has held on to a construction license for 43 years, longer than its still elusive 40-year operating license.
For existing reactors, while recognizing that expensive “power uprates” do not significantly reduce carbon emissions, states are limited to emissions reduction credit only for the incremental increase in thermal ratings to generate extra electricity output.
The climate rule rejects the creation of carbon reduction rewards for reactors with 20-year license extensions.
It further does not allow for the preservation of a growing list of “economically at-risk” operating units teetering on permanent closure that can be replaced with renewable energy and energy efficiency. The nuclear industry had intensely lobbied the EPA to allow states to incentivize keeping dirty, dangerous, and expensive nukes operational that otherwise are headed for decommissioning. These troubled reactors include Indian Point 2 & 3 (NY), Ginna (NY), Fitzpatrick (NY), Oyster Creek (NJ), Three Mile Island (PA), Davis-Besse (OH), Pilgrim (MA), Byron 1 & 2 (IL), Quad Cities 1& 2 (IL) and Clinton (IL).
We can, however, expect that both the coal and nuclear industries will meet rulemaking with rule breaking, a strategy of endless litigation to stay implementation, and even more divisive political wrangling hinged on the next administration. To this end, President Obama has warned, “There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change.”
Yesterday, an amazing thing happened. Yes, President Obama released the first real climate action policy in the U.S. ever. But that’s not all. The incredible thing—the one that will be most important in the years to come—is … they got it basically right.
Including on nuclear power. President Obama just made it the policy of the United States that nuclear power is not a viable climate solution. And not just that, but renewable energy can replace nuclear power just like it can replace fossil fuels.
In Dec. 2014, NIRS spearheaded a coaltion of 148 groups, including Beyond Nuclear, which submitted comments on the Obama EPA's draft CPP. The final CPP, in large measure, adopted the positions taken by the coalition in opposition to nuclear power as any sort of a "solution" to the climate crisis deserving of support.
Also in Dec. 2014, NIRS, Beyond Nuclear, and 30 other groups, joined together to submit legal and technical comments to EPA on its draft CPP. Attorney Diane Curran of the Washington, D.C. law firm Harmon, Curran, Spielberg, & Eisenberg, L.L.P., served as legal counsel for the coalition. Dr. Arjun Makhijani of IEER, Dr. Mark Cooper of Vermont Law School, and Chris Shuey, MPH, provided expert technical comments on behalf of the coalition.
As reported by Joby Warrick and Steven Mufson in the Washington Post, opponents of the CPP like the coal industry, and its friends in Congress like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), have come out swinging.
In response, Beyond Nuclear joined with 91 other groups in a letter to U.S. Senators protesting the "Polluter Protection Act," S. 1324. Sponsored by U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), the bill "would prevent the EPA from protecting public health by dismantling the Clean Air Act and blocking the Clean Power Plan (CPP)."
The Washington Post has also reported that 16 state Attorneys General have written EPA, calling for it to postpone implementation of its CPP. EPA has indicated it will not suspend implementation. The move by the state AGs is seen as the indication of an impending lawsuit, in which they will call upon the federal courts to issue an injunction against EPA's implementation of the CPP.