ENERGY TRANSITION

Nuclear advocates hope for leg up under Trump

A nuclear power trade group is hoping the industry's outlook could improve under President-elect Donald Trump's administration.

Nuclear electricity has struggled to get the federal government and states to recognize its zero-emissions benefits and to help the sector compete against low-cost natural gas, as detailed in an E&E News series by Peter Behr and Hannah Northey.

U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan chose to leave the issue to politically divided states, heightening concerns about greenhouse gas emissions increasing as Trump prepares to rescind the agency's climate rules and the Obama administration's international commitments, according to the two reports.

The new administration could be a turning point, though, said the Nuclear Energy Institute's Revis James, vice president of policy planning and development.

"The Trump administration has indicated that nuclear is part of 'all of the above' ... beyond that, there's not a lot of detail," James said in an interview with E&E News after an event Friday among energy trade groups at the Newseum. He added the transition team before the election was open to hearing from NEI.

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James said NEI wants markets to consider all the attributes of various fuel sources, including environmental benefits and reliability.

Absent that, he said NEI will look to expand a production tax credit the industry receives to help incentivize new advanced nuclear power units. An investment tax credit for nuclear also "has been discussed," James said, though no one in Congress has pursued that legislation.

The more immediate focus will be to encourage state officials to write policies valuing nuclear power in order to keep at-risk plants online, James said.

James thinks that under a Trump administration, some environmental advocates may warm to nuclear power as a way to keep emissions down as Trump stalls climate action. James said NEI has had productive talks with environmental groups over the last few years.

"In one year we're not going to have some announcement of 100 NGOs. I think it's a process of developing relationships, letting them understand what we do and the values, and also letting them develop their positions so that they can remain consistent with the core mission of their different organizations. That takes time," James said.

James is hopeful Congress could resolve a political controversy over sending spent nuclear fuel to a central site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, a plan that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has long opposed. Still, other political leaders may have concerns with the plan, and the issue won't be resolved overnight when Reid retires, James added.

Baker Elmore, director of federal programs for NEI, said the group hopes legislation on spent fuel storage could move in the second half of next year, which would clear up concerns that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has long held. That's important because Feinstein is the ranking member on the appropriations subcommittee that handles nuclear funding, he added.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will get a new Republican leader this year too. Two of the front-runners for the chairmanship are Reps. John Shimkus from Illinois and Greg Walden from Oregon. Both are in favor of nuclear power, although Shimkus has been much more outspoken in his support.

Additionally, a bipartisan group in the Senate, Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) have all worked on legislation that would likely boost the industry by streamlining certain regulatory licensing processes.

Elmore said most energy sources will be angling to get favorable treatment in a vast infrastructure bill Republicans want to pursue.

Red states want more energy authority

A group of conservative-led states last week sent a letter urging the Trump administration to overhaul U.S. EPA and return authority for major environmental decisions to states, rather than the federal government (E&ENews PM, Nov. 17).

North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Don van der Vaart led the effort between his state, Alabama, Nebraska, North Dakota and West Virginia.

North Carolina's Environmental Management Commission withdrew discussion of the Clean Power Plan from its agenda after the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the rule. Before that, van der Vaart had directed his department to prepare a compliance plan that would only include efficiency improvements at the state's coal plants, a course that EPA would like have rejected as inadequate.

The states that penned the letter railed against what they called heavy-handed regulations from the Obama administration and said they hope Trump will shift power back to state officials and their electric companies.

"I don't think any of these are inconsistent with the concept that the new administration seems to be espousing," said Lance LeFleur, director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. "We're wanting to make sure they know there are people supporting them with those policies."

LaFleur said states need more flexibility than one-size-fits-all federal rules often offer. Officials in Alabama also canceled their Clean Power Plan meetings after the Supreme Court stay.

Upcoming events

This week in Washington, EPA chief Gina McCarthy speaks at the National Press Club today. Her speech will be live-streamed.

Also today, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the nine-state cap-and-trade program, holds a meeting by webinar on the group's program review. The states have been trying to determine whether to ramp up RGGI's carbon reduction goals and make other changes, including in order to show compliance with the Clean Power Plan.

In case you missed it

  • Follow all the E&E News stories on the new administration and the transition process here.
  • State electricity officials may be pencils down on the Clean Power Plan, but the endgame could drag on, Debra Kahn reports from the annual meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners in La Quinta, Calif. (EnergyWire, Nov. 15).
  • Can Trump deliver on his energy and climate promises, including his vow to torpedo the Clean Power Plan? (Greenwire, Nov. 14).
  • A lawyer for the rural electric co-ops thinks Trump would be better off unraveling the Clean Power Plan through a rulemaking process than waiting for the courts to decide (ClimateWire, Nov. 18).
  • Reporter Jeff Tomich looked into what Trump's win means for Exelon Corp. and its nuclear subsidy plan (EnergyWire, Nov. 17).

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