Two senators representing key swing votes on climate change legislation introduced an alternative bill today that emphasizes funding for clean energy technology.
The bill, authored by Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), would boost the Energy Department's loan guarantee authority to $100 billion and provide $750 million per year over the next decade for five "mini-Manhattan" projects for carbon capture and sequestration, advanced biofuels, advanced batteries, solar power, and reprocessing and recycling spent nuclear fuel, according to a summary by Alexander's staff.
The bill would also provide up to $1 billion over five years for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review advanced "Generation IV" reactor designs and small modular designs, $100 million per year for 10 years for nuclear work force education, and $500 million over a decade for current reactor lifetime extensions and increased efficiency. The bill's goal is to double nuclear production in 20 years.
Most importantly, the senators said, the bill could garner bipartisan support -- something the current climate legislation authored by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is lacking. Webb and Alexander said they do not support the Kerry-Boxer bill mainly because it relies on a cap-and-trade mechanism to reduce carbon emissions.
"We believe there is more bipartisan interest in clean energy in the Senate than would appear when you look at the climate change debate," Alexander told reporters at a press conference. "I don't want to see us get so stuck on climate change that we can't move ahead on the things that we can agree on."
Webb added, "This is an issue that cries out for not only bipartisanship but constructive leadership. We are discussing what in this area can be achievable and measurable. This is where we focused our energy, a fairly simply constructed piece of legislation. ... This is something we can move forward whether or not people vote for the other one, and it's something we can move forward now."
The bill's price tag would be up to $20 billion over 20 years, including the research funding and $10 billion for the Congressional Budget Office scoring for the $100 billion in loan guarantee authority, the senators said.
Webb and Alexander added that they would not support the Kerry-Boxer bill even if policies from their new bill were added but the cap-and-trade piece remained in the legislation.
The Webb-Alexander bill's priorities of $100 billion for clean energy technology loan guarantees and funding for nuclear research and advanced designs are very similar to legislative priorities laid out by the Nuclear Energy Institute -- the industry's policy arm -- last month (E&ENews PM, Oct. 26).
The bill's "mini-Manhattan" projects also closely resemble "energy innovation hubs" championed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu but that did not get funded in the fiscal 2010 appropriations bill. Chu had included eight innovation hubs, three of which were funded -- nuclear reactor modeling, fuels from sunlight and building efficiency design -- and five of which were rejected, including solar power and carbon capture and storage (E&E Daily, Oct. 1).
Environmental groups and consumer advocates have fought against expanded loan guarantee authority for nuclear power, saying the program would put taxpayers at risk for billions of dollars.
"It is ironic that at a moment when the nation has suffered mightily from the misallocation of the cost of risk in the financial sector, some of the strongest supporters of free markets and critics of government-sponsored enterprises, would urge another massive federal subsidy intended to circumvent the judgment of the capital markets and put another multibillion dollar program of federal support onto the backs of the American people as taxpayers and ratepayers," Mark Cooper, a senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School, said in a statement.
Cooper released a study this summer that found consumers could pay $1.9 trillion to $4.4 trillion in excess costs if 100 new nuclear reactors are built instead of using renewable energy and energy efficiency to provide the same electricity (Greenwire, June 19).