From Nuclear Policy to a Budget Showdown

Monday, March 14, 2011


Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Susan Page, USA Today's Washington bureau chief, talked about the week ahead in Congress and the White House response to domestic and international events. Senior fellow at Center for American Progress, Joseph Romm joined the conversation to discuss U.S. nuclear energy policy in light of last week's earthquake in Japan.

It's been a long, hard week for Japan — a 9.0 earthquake followed by a tsunami, a stock market plunge, and then two nuclear power plant explosions. Disaster in other forms are all over the world. In Libya, Gadhafi's violent fighting continues and closer to home, a potential government shutdown. So, a new week begins with a lot on our minds.

Joseph Romm said, what's happened in Japan is a serious setback to the nuclear energy industry. The earthquake and the tsunami overwhelmed the nuclear plant systems in Japan, and there are plants are also at risk in the U.S.

We have plants that are exposed to tsunami risk that are on the coast. We have plants that are exposed to earthquake risk and we have plants that are exposed to flooding risk so I think this is the time to take a look.

Susan Page agreed. The new discourse about climate change and desire to become less dependent on foreign oil is what has made us move towards nuclear energy, but now it may take a back seat.

This accident hits the pause button again when it comes to nuclear power. What it really does, whether it actually will prevent us from going forward and it may depend on what happens in Japan but we're really watching the situation with a lot of concern.

Closer to home, President Obama's budget has $36 billion for loan guarantees in 2012 budget for nuclear power. At the same time, the  Republicans budget plan includes cuts to tsunami warning systems, NOAA's hurricane monitoring and warning system and FEMA's grants to plan for hazards and respond to them, Romm reported, and this is a tough situation.

It's clear from what's happening in Japan that while these accidents don't happen very often, when they do happen, they tend to be of catastrophic proportion and that means you have to bend over backwards to make sure that things are being done safely, particularly in this country where the tax payer's on the hook if things go wrong.

According to Susan Page said, there are risks in holding off on nuclear power and there are risks in moving forward, but with the crisis in Japan, it may be easier to get some of these Republican budget cuts back up for discussion.

Crossing the globe to the events in Libya, Page said the U.S. administration is split on what to do with the proposed no-fly zone over Libya, but there's a polarizing political nature to it.

What I think you see some Republican leaders doing, is seeing a little bit of an opening against President Obama. In this political climate, as the presidential election approaches, there's certainly no opening that's going to go unexploited by either political party.

As for the budget deadlock, this Friday the continuing resolution expires, but Page said there are plans in the works to extend it for another few weeks into April.

If this three week deal goes through, the Congress will have cut more money than the Senate Democrats originally the Republicans are winning some budget cuts by going ahead with this stop gap deal on budgets, but I think there will be a point...when there is much more pressure to actually get an overall budget deal and not just another continuing resolution.

And for the departure of NPR's CEO, Vivian Shiller last week, Page said this might make it harder to get the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's piece of the pie off the chopping block.

At a time when Congress is struggling to find big things to cut, small symbolic things to cut become very hard to defy.

And for some much needed comic relief, Susan Page is the President of the Gridiron Club this year. The prestigious group of journalists in D.C. had it's annual dinner last night. According to Page, this was the best joke of the night:

The best joke I thought was when President Obama stepped to the podium to speak and if course the band played, "Hail to the Chief," and he said, no, no, play the other song we talked about. And then they played, "Born in the USA."


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Comments [12]

amalgam from Manhattan by day, NJ by night

@ Alvin - I think that you are confusing things with regards to Romm's statement the makeup of the U.S. energy generation mix.

NYC is VERY different from the rest of the country in that it gets:

NYC = 0% of its electricity from coal; 5% from oil, and 56% from natural gas;

USA = Just under 50% of electricity generation coal, about 22% from natural gas, and 1.6% from oil.

Check out the energy fuel mix of NYC by going to the EPA's PowerProfiler tool. Just plug in your zip code to see the breakdown

So across the country very little oil is used for anything but transportation fuel, while the other fossil fuels, coal and natural gas, along with nuclear are the primary way the US generates its elctricity.

Mar. 21 2011 02:56 PM
Ann Moss from Texas

I'm glad you had a spokesman from the "GE nuclear division" posing as a college professor on your show. I feel very much more assured that we still live in Candyland and there will be no blow-back from the nuclear incident in Japan. We all know that there are no dangers posed by this invisible radiation stuff.

Mar. 14 2011 11:39 AM
Jim from Brooklyn

We have a serious energy problem.
Sounds crazy to make airports the center of our lives.

The authors of Airplane Utopia should read the news then revisit their book.
BP Oil Spill, High-volume hydraulic fracturing, Third reactor fails in Japan.

Mar. 14 2011 10:56 AM
April from Manhattan

My father was a geologist and geology professor who died in '03 at 97. He discovered that the Blue Ridge mountains are a fault. How the barrier islands along the East coast formed, worked on glaciation. Years ago he predicted a Katrina, based on the Army Corps of Engineers rechannelling the river and acting to destroy the wetlands protecting New Orleans. He knew the Colorado River was facing salinization over time; now happening. He pointed out that earthquakes can happen anywhere. In NYC, my husband and I awoke in the middle of the night some time in the "80s asking "What was that?" There'd been an odd noise and movement, not jarring, but noticeable. (It came from New Jersey of course. Why we need those cannons pointed at the Palisades from Riverside Park. JOKE!) A big one could happen here. Sad to say, but it was absurd to build a nuclear plant in California or Japan, anywhere, but especially near the shore. When I walk by Alice Tully Hall with its trendy overhang, I hear my father's voice saying "I wouldn't want to be near there in an earthquake.

Why is no one talking about tidal power. We must put money into alternatives instead of corporate welfare for nuclear power and "clean" coal, and gas, all environmental disasters in waiting. In the last year of his life the Army Corps of Engineers came to ask my father whether it was possible to save the Everglades. (The textbook of Florida Geology is dedicated to my him.) I'm not sure what he told them. He'd been urging them for years to do something, and giving suggestions, which were noted, but ignored by policy makers. Sugar is big business in Florida. Sugar needs Everglades water. also much of Miami is built on limestone. At some point folks in Miami are going to turn their water taps and get feces, brine and urine. Will we ever learn? And why do we forget so soon?

Mar. 14 2011 10:51 AM

Half of the base of the Republican party is in denial of scientific evidence for corporate reasons, and half is in denial of scientific evidence for religious reasons, and both halves deplore regulation.

This is not a country that can handle nuclear power.

Mar. 14 2011 10:45 AM
Alvin from Manhattan

Joseph Romm is misinformed. He said that nuclear power will not reduce oil consumption because it's used to generate electricity. The non-nuclear electricity generated in NYC and much of the Northeast is mostly from oil, plus some natural gas. Oil heats many buildings. (Nuclear-generated electricity could be used instead.)
He also said that new nuclear plants would require large loan guarantees, i.e., an indirect subsidy. Hello! Our oil supply, 60% of which is foreign, requires huge military monetary expenditures, not to mention lives. We must protect oil fields, shipping lanes, pipelines, etc. The costs of climate change are not yet fully understood. Solar power requires large subsidies, and wind farms may place demands on supplies of commodities such as copper. Diversity is the solution, and nuclear must be a large part of it.

Mar. 14 2011 10:37 AM

The US is MASSIVELY RICH in energy! It is the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. It has massive amounts of wind power, in the MidWest in particular., and plenty of sun power in the South and South west and California. But unlike Germany, which is now a leader in solar energy, we simply have been locked in by the Republican party (which is owned by the fossil fuel industries), which is simply determined to block any competition to fossil fuels! Without the oil and nuclear power industries, there is no Republic Party. That is why they do everything to throttle alternative energy, electric cars, etc. They must do the bidding of their masters, without which there is no GOP.

Mar. 14 2011 10:30 AM
Jim from Brooklyn

BP Oil Spill, High-volume hydraulic fracturing, Third reactor fails in Japan.

We have a serious energy problem.

Mar. 14 2011 10:21 AM
Jeff Pappas

The Capitalists are fine with Profit and Corporate welfare AND Taxpayers footing the bill on a Nuke Disaster .
The rest of us can just burn up but we ALL PAY

Mar. 14 2011 10:20 AM
Robert from NYC

The more I listen the more I get the impression that republicans are suicidal masochists.

Mar. 14 2011 10:17 AM
Robert from NYC

Shouldn't he have said thank goodness this is a setback to the Nuclear (Nucular?!) Energy agenda!

Mar. 14 2011 10:10 AM
Robert from NYC

You left out the Wisconsin and the breaking of collective bargaining, Brian. Is that now a non-story?!! God bless Democracy Now and Amy Goodman.

Mar. 14 2011 10:09 AM

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