February 2, 2010

Obama Goes Nuclear on Climate Change?

President Obama’s State of the Union Address last Wednesday was, like many such speeches, full of generalities regarding the President’s policy priorities.  But there were also a few tasty tidbits for those wondering about the fate of climate change and energy legislation.  Not surprisingly, the President cast such legislation as a means of job-creation and argued for “incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy.”  More interestingly, the President went on to make clear his view that nuclear energy should be a critical component of clean energy initiatives.  While Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has been a steady advocate of nuclear power, the President’s statement was his most explicit endorsement yet of nuclear energy as a response to climate change.  Perhaps the statement was simply a reflection of the political landscape.  Although the Waxman-Markey bill passed by the House last June contains few provisions specific to nuclear energy, the legislation currently being drafted in the Senate would remove barriers to and even promote new nuclear plant construction.  (For a brief comparison of Waxman-Markey with Senate legislation on this point, see here.)  Indeed, three of the key players in the Senate on climate change – John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham – have repeatedly declared that additional nuclear power is essential to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  All of this may give heartburn to many environmental groups, but nuclear energy may be a necessary pill for them to swallow if any climate change legislation is to be had in the near future.