Pro-Coal and Pro-Nuclear Congressional Energy Bills on Crash Course with Environment, U.S. Economy and the Public

By Russell Lowes, November 22, 2009
 
This may seem like blasphemy: the House Bill on energy known as The American Clean Energy Act is the most detrimental bill the House has passed since the Patriot Act. Like the Patriot Act, it is not what it says it is. It should never become law.

        It is not a clean energy bill.

        It is not a pro-solution climate bill.

        It is not a pro-American bill.

 

        It is an energy giveaway bill.

        It is a bill that deletes Clean Air Act authority for the Environmental Protection Agency over nearly 50 coal plants.

        It is a bill that sets up an unfair energy tax system called cap & trade tax (CTT).

        It is a bill that sets up CTT, that doubles as a financial derivative, which would be responsible for economic deterioration of U.S. economy, just like the CDOs and CDSs that helped cause the current economic downturn.

Further, the Senate bill versions are just as bad or worse.

At issue is a battle that has a huge bearing on the United States and world’s environment, economy and social order. The American Clean Energy and Security Act, or ACESA, has passed the U.S. House and is now in a number of different forms before the Senate.  With the change in the administration and increased majorities in Congress, we had all hoped that the 111th Congress would act fast to implement a new climate bill to start controlling our pollution output like carbon dioxide.

The House Bill (HR 2454), however, is replete with problems, as are the Senate versions currently being drafted. While it is significant that a house of Congress has, for the first time, passed an energy & climate bill, it is also important that the bill that Congress ultimately enacts imposes a tax on energy in a way that will discourage excess energy use.  That is because energy use analysis indicates that price increases are the most effective way to curtail energy use, improve the way we use energy and decrease pollution.

THE PROBLEMS WITH ACESA

There are numerous problems with the 1428-page House Bill (HB)1, so I do not attempt to address all of them.  Rather, I will highlight three main areas that need to be corrected in a final bill if it is to be effective: 

 

ACESA implements cap & trade tax and financial derivative system instead of a simple carbon tax.

 

 

Emissions trading, also known as “cap & trade tax” is a way of controlling pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants.  Under “cap & trade tax” the government sets a limit, or “cap” on the total amount of a pollutant that can be emitted.  Companies or other groups are issued permits that give them the right to emit a certain percentage of that amount of pollutant (“credits” or “allowances”).  The total amount of credits or allowances cannot exceed the cap.  Companies that need to increase their emission allowance can buy credits from other companies who don’t need all of their credit because they pollute less.  This transfer is the “trade.”  Thus, companies have a financial incentive to reduce the amount of pollution they emit and a disincentive to exceed their set allowance. 

While cap & trade is a tax in that the U.S. Government will be collecting auction fees/taxes, it is also a financial derivative, in that the certificates issued through auction will derive their value from the sold “right” to pollute.

ACESA includes a cap & trade tax system where the certificates would be issued through an auction.  By requiring companies to buy their certificates, the government forces them to pay for the “right” to pollute.  When he was campaigning for the presidency, candidate Obama promised that under his cap and trade plan, 100% of the certificates would be auctioned—in other words, no one would get a free ride to pollute. 

 

Unfortunately, the house bill only requires 15% of the emissions certificates to be auctioned, or paid for, during the first year.  That figure will increase to only 70% by 2030.  Obviously, this reduced auction amount is a major disappointment to those of us who want to see polluters, not the public, bear the financial burden of their pollution.  

 

The reduced auction amount isn’t the only problem with the cap & trade provision in the bill. Although cap & trade systems can be effective they are also susceptible to abuse.  Opportunists are able to take advantage of the complexity of the mechanism to “game the system.”  To curb this potential problem, the House Bill sets up an oversight committee under the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to regulate hedge fund and other derivative-related aspects of cap & trade. However, it is only a cursory oversight arrangement and there is legitimate concern that it would not prevent market manipulation, which in turn could lead to a new economic bubble in this new speculative market and ultimately hurt the U.S. economy. Illicit cap & trade tax schemes have already been exposed in Europe.2

 

All of these problems with the cap & trade tax approach could be eliminated by implementing a simple carbon tax.3

 

ACESA Eliminates EPA Clean Air Act authority to regulate carbon dioxide.

 

The House Bill is also problematic because it proposes to strip EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.4  This authority was only recently recognized by the United States Supreme Court, and EPA is only now moving toward exercising it; however, the House Bill would reverse that progress. 

 

At least one analysis of the House Bill indicates that this proposed de-authorization of the EPA would mean that 47 coal plants will be able to be built without EPA regulation.  Clearly, that outcome is contrary to any meaningful goal to reduce carbon emissions. 

 

ACESA Funds coal and nuclear energy more heavily than increased efficiency and renewables.

 

Finally, the proposed funding under the bill for new technologies has misplaced priorities and incentives.  Under the House Bill, $60 billion would be allocated for “clean coal” carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. CCS is a technology that would capture the carbon coming out of the coal stack and then sequester it so that it does not get into the atmosphere.

 

There are a number of CCS different possibilities in the process of being developed, but none has been demonstrated on a commercial scale, and it is unlikely that CCS will be economically practical.  Yet, this is the largest chunk of money directly listed in the bill for any one technology. While energy efficiency and renewable energies get $90 billion by 2025, or $6 billion per year or so, that is only a fraction of the amount that coal and nuclear energy will get.

 

One of the Senate bills includes loan incentives that would give nuclear and coal CCS hundreds of billions of dollars in aid.  The decision to disproportionately encourage these two technologies with financial aid and incentives in a “clean energy” bill is simply baffling.  Keep in mind that nuclear has been shown to be an uneconomical technology, and that coal CCS, even if it works, will lead to much more coal mining. The truth is, there is no clean coal, nor would any reasonable person consider nuclear energy a “clean” fuel given its significant waste problem. 

 

Yet the bill’s definition of clean energy is so loose, under it coal CCS and nuclear energy will be considered “clean.”  And here’s the kicker–these two technologies, coal CCS and nuclear, are so expensive (in the range of 25-35 cents per kilowatt-hour for new units) that if we put our dollars into them, they will suck so many dollars away from energy efficiency and renewables (in the range of 2-25 cents per kilowatt-hour) that there would not be enough money to solve the climate solutions we desperately need.

 

In summary, here is what needs to happen to make these bills a positive force: 1) restructure cap & trade tax or, better yet, replace it with a simple carbon tax; 2) do not remove the Clean Air Act authority from the EPA; and 3) define clean as clean, and re-design this bill to fund the technologies that are truly clean.

 

You can call your senators and stress how irresponsible the cap & trade system is. If it passes the Senate, you can then call your Representatives and Senators to ask them to block the authorization of the reconciliation of these two terrible bills.

 

———————-

Note: An earlier version of this article appeared in the Sierra Club Rincon Group newsletter, under my new appointment as Energy Subcommittee Chair for this Group.

1Available at http://energycommerce.house.gov/Press_111/20090701/hr2454_house.pdf

2Associated Press article in Arizona Daily Star (AP), Fight Against Global Warming Spawning New Type of Crime: Carbon-Permit Fraud, 8/22/09, p. A12, http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/news/305938.php

3See http://carbontax.org

4See analysis at http://www.psr.org/take-action/senate-letter-climate-legislation.html

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Nuclear Energy is a Money Grab. . .

Electricity Consumption, California Vs. the U.S.

by Russell Lowes, updated 10/24/14

. . .From Renewables and Energy Efficiency to a Counter-Productive Industrial Web

Twelve Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Energy and Support a Green Energy Future

We have a complete set of energy solutions: solar cells, wind turbines, concentrating solar, ocean current and wave energy, energy efficiency, energy storage, and the list goes on.(1) As these technologies mature, we can quickly reduce nuclear, coal and gas use.

The most environmentally and economically destructive sources of electricity should be reduced now, as other technologies emerge. The phase-out of nuclear, coal and gas electrical energy will reduce global warming while freeing up monies for renewables,  efficiencies and energy storage.

This list focuses on the nuclear energy option. Nuclear energy is being heavily promoted with millions of dollars in public relations budgets by the nuclear industry. This compilation will expose the nuclear myths.

California and Germany are two examples of how to make the switch toward a safe and effective energy future. In California, the per capita energy has gone down through a myriad of efficiency techniques.(2) In Germany, solar production has gone up radically, through a savvy system of support, which is turning Germany, hardly known for sunny days, into the top solar country. (3) See the graph at the top of the article for the California example.(2)

 

Twelve Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Energy and to Support Renewables and Efficiencies.

1)     Nuclear Energy is Too Expensive. In 2002, industry estimates for building reactors were in the $1500-2000 per kilowatt range.(4) Estimates crept up to $4000 by 2007.(5) Then, the Moody’s ratings firm projected around $5000.(6) Even more recently, Florida Power and Light estimated between $5300 and $8200 per kilowatt.(7) This amount of capital would cause nuclear energy to cost far more than the alternatives.

The record of nuclear reactor costs in the 1980s, about $3100 in 1987, combined with general inflation would yield about $6496 in 2014 dollars.(8) The current round of U.S. reactors being built is likely to start up in 2022. In the 1970s and 80s the average overrun for nuclear construction was more than 220%.(9) This record of massive overruns compared to roughly 50% for coal plants.(10)

At $9000/KW, 1000 reactors would cost $9 trillion. The capital payback would be $1.26 trillion per year, exceeding the $1.1 trillion we spend on ALL energy in the U.S. annually. This would be an 114% increase in total energy cost, just to cover the capital expenditure of construction of a robust nuclear program. This does not include fuel costs, operation and maintenance, nor the occasional accident or early retirement of some of these reactors. With this much going into nuclear energy alone, the money available for solar and other real solutions would dry up.The capital markets would be dominated by a sliver of the American energy system.

2)    Expansion of Nuclear Energy Would Worsen Global Warming. Even if nuclear energy had the CO2 advantage the nuclear industry claims, building at least U.S. 1000 reactors would be required to significantly reduce global warming.(11) Over 20 years there would be one reactor completed weekly. The world has never seen anything near that kind of construction performance.(12)
Additionally, uranium resource depletion is occurring. Within about thirty years, the amount of energy required just to mine, mill and build reactors would exceed the CO2 levels of natural gas plants.(13) It would worsen thereafter, with possible reactor shut-downs, due to fuel availability problems.

3)    Nuclear Energy Represents a Long-Term Negative Net Energy. Nuclear plants already have a long-term negative net energy and CO2 level higher than fossil fuels, if you count the energy to manage the waste over the legally required one million years.

4)    The Most Stripping of our Public Lands through Mining Would Happen with Nuclear Energy. With ore quality diminishing, mining levels would skyrocket. To illustrate, when we have to resort to mining granite for uranium, the weight of ore would equal fifty times the weight of coal per kilowatt-hour.(14)

5)     High and Permanent Government Subsidy Is Required. Nuclear energy is too risky for investment without its insurance renewed by Congress (the Price-Anderson Act, 1957). The property cost of a major accident could top half a trillion dollars.(15) Additional medical costs are waived by the Act. The industry has said if it does not get the government to guarantee loans, it will not build any reactors.(16)

6)    Unacceptable Accident Potential Persists. Analysis has put the chance of at least three meltdowns at 50% if the world opts for the large number of 2500 nuclear reactors. The ecological and economical impact of one meltdown would dwarf the impact of Hurricane Katrina, with thousands of years of radiological damage.(17)

7)    National Security Is Compromised. After the September 11 attacks, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said reactors could withstand impact of a 747. They have since retracted this statement.(18) This same terrorist network may target a nuclear reactor in the future. Additionally, every hot on-site reactor spent-fuel pool is a perfect terrorist target, with waste that would melt down from such an impact. These targets are not reasonably protected.

8)     Nuclear Energy Has the Most Water Usage. It has lower thermal efficiency compared to fossil-fuel, at 33%, compared to 40% for coal, and 45% for natural gas. Nuclear energy requires more water for cooling. The Palo Verde plant, 35 miles upwind of Phoenix, requires about 55% the water of a city with a half-million people, like Tucson, Arizona, or 120,000 acre feet of annual water use.(19)

9)    Too Much Radiation Is Produced. Governmental studies conclude that there is no additional safe level of radiation. Radiative gas is released into the air at the reactor site, routinely, increasing cancer risk.(20)

10)    Million-Year Waste Legacy Will Burden Society. The EPA had a 10,000 year waste management requirement, until the courts replaced it with a 1,000,000 year time line.(21) Just 5.3 kilograms of Plutonium-239, which has a half life of about 25 thousand years, is enough for a nuclear bomb.(21a)

11)    Civil Liberties Would Diminish. With an increase terrorist threat to a highly vulnerable and risky system in place, the pressure on governments to subdue civil liberties will always be there with nuclear energy.

12)    Finally, Other Options are Better. U.S. wind energy increased 140% over the last five years, with the capacity of sixty-one nuclear reactors added.(22) With Texas gaining the lead in 2006, one Texan said that Texas will never lose this lead to any other state in the nation. We need bold strides like this.

    Americans are far more resourceful than to think that we have to return to an over-subsidized outdated electricity option like nuclear energy. We need to use our limited energy dollars for real solutions that work! Support renewables and efficiencies instead of nuclear energy.

Russell J. Lowes, Research Director at SafeEnergyAnalyst.org is the primary author of a book on the nation’s largest nuclear plant upwind of Phoenix, “Energy Options for the Southwest, Part I, Nuclear and Coal Power,” released in 1979. The book played a principal part in the cancellation of two additional reactors at this plant.

Footnotes:
1) Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, “Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free, A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy,” 2007, at http://www.ieer.org/carbonfree/
2) “OnEarth” Newsletter, National Resources Defense Council, Spring 2006,  http://www.nrdc.org/onearth/06spr/ca1.asp#
3) Reiner Gaertner, “Germany Embraces the Sun,” Wired, September1, 2007, http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2001/07/45056?currentPage=1
4) For example, The Future of Nuclear Power, An Interdisciplinary MIT Study, 2003.
5) Tulsa World, “AEP Not Interested in Nuclear Plants,” 9/1/07.
6) SNLi, “Moody’s Sees High Risk in Building New Nuclear Generation Capacity,” 10/10/07.
7) Curtis Morgan, Miami Herald, “Turkey Point: FPL Asks Panel to Allow Two More Nuclear Reactors,” 1/31/08, http://www.miamiherald.com/
8) Brice Smith, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change, 2006, p. 8. http://www.ieer.org/reports/insurmountablerisks/
For inflation calculate, see http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl
9) Energy Information Administration, An Analysis of Nuclear Power Plant Construction Costs, DOE/EAI-0485, p. 18. Also, EIA, Monthly Energy Review, August 1994
10) Charles Komanoff, Power Plant Cost Escalation, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1981, page 2. Note: a range of 33 to 68% for coal overruns, averages to about 50%.
11) Brice Smith book.
12) Ibid.
13) David Fleming, The Lean Guide to Nuclear Energy, a Life Cycle In Trouble,” summary/Nuclear Energy In Brief, 2007, http://www.nirs.org/climate/background/leanguidetonuclearenergy.pdf
14) See reports at www.stormsmith.nl, updated periodically.
15) U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Sandia Labs, Impact of a Meltdown at Nuclear Plant, Consequences of Reactor Accident (CRAC-2) Report, 1982.
16) Dan Morse, Washington Post, “Money Matters in Reactor Project Debate; Financing, Rather Than Safety, Appears to Be Key Factor in Whether Plans Proceed,” 9/5/07, p. B-5.
17) Brice Smith report.
18) Bill Brubaker, Washington Post, “Nuclear Agency: Air Defenses Impractical,” 1/29/07.
19) Arizona Nuclear Power Project, “Use of Effluent Water at Palo Verde,” communication from ANPP to Maricopa Association of Governments, November 17, 1977. See also, http://www.aps.com/general_info/AboutAPS_18.html  See also, University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center, Water Resource Availability for the Tucson Metropolitan Area, 2006.  http://ag.arizona.edu/azwater/presentations/Megdal.az.water.resource.avail.for.tucson.pdf
20) National Academy of Sciences, Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation May Cause Harm, Press Release, 6/29/05. Also see: U.S. NRC Effluent Database for Nuclear Power Plants, 2004
http://www.reirs.com/effluent/EDB_rptLicenseeReleaseSummary.asp  (Some navigation required.)
21) Ascribe, The Public Interest Newswire, “Managing Nuclear Wastes for the Millennia,” 1/7/07.

21a) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutonium
22) American Wind Energy Association, “Wind Generation Records & Turbine Productivity,” http://www.awea.org/Issues/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=5806&RDtoken=22166&userID=