The nuclear option
President Barack Obama has really freaked out Auntie’s environmental activist friends. At issue is the president’s recent State of the Union speech, in which he insisted that to create more clean-energy jobs, “We need a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.” Thus, the freakout. Now, according to surveys regularly conducted by the Nuclear Energy Institute, a pro-nuclear-power think tank, approximately 70 percent of Americans support building new nuke plants. Auntie can assure you her activist friends are not among them. As author Sue Sturgis asks on the environmental Web site Grist, “Exactly what generation of nuclear power is Obama talking about—and what makes it an improvement over the generation we now have, with its high cost and threats to public health and the environment?”
Rather than join in with the growing chorus damning Obama, as some folks around here are prone to do, Auntie would like to shine a light on the president’s many environmental achievements during his first year in office. As the Natural Resources Defense Council notes, it’s a fairly extensive list, especially considering the Bush administration’s abysmal record. Obama has “advanced efforts to secure a global treaty to cut mercury pollution, reversing years of U.S. opposition.” He’s been working with China, India and Latin America to help establish global clean-energy goals. Obama’s Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force will develop “a national strategy to protect and restore ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems.” The president has begun a review of the toxic herbicide atrazine, which has polluted water supplies in the Midwest. In short, the Obama administration has been busy, busy, busy.
Expanding nuclear power wasn’t the only statement in Obama’s speech that environmentalists found objectionable. According to the president, creating more clean-energy jobs “means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.” Is he serious or merely throwing a sop to the Republicans? One possible answer can be found among his environmental achievements so far, which include reducing toxic mercury and soot emissions from coal- and oil-fueled power plants, blocking mountaintop removal coal mining operations and canceling 77 oil and gas leases in Utah’s Red Rock Canyon wilderness. That doesn’t sound a lot like someone who’s in bed with the energy corporations.