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Policy Update 3/15/2011: Japan Faces Nuclear Disaster


Policy Update 3/15/2011: Japan Faces Nuclear Disaster

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This week's energy conversations have been dominated by the nuclear disaster in Japan. At one particular plant, three reactors are in danger of melting down if not properly cooled by the emergency efforts. Most U.S. politicians are sticking to their former stances on nuclear power, including President Obama, who remains supportive of building new nuclear facilities in the U.S. Anti-Clean Air Act bills in the House and Senate continue to inch forward, with a House vote possible in the coming weeks. The short-term spending bill funding the federal government will likely be punted another three weeks down the road this week to allow time for compromise.

Nuclear Disaster Strikes Japan

The tsunami and earthquake struck multiple nuclear plants, but the most dire situation involves three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant closest to the epicenter of the quake. Meltdowns for all three reactors are not out of the question. Such a disaster would be unprecedented, even compared to Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. Germany and Switzerland are suspending plans for new nuclear plants.

  • Joe Romm has been compiling great coverage.
  • Grist has a simple overview of exactly what went wrong.
  • A great graphic from the Washington Post.

So far President Obama is sticking to his support for expanding nuclear power in the U.S. Leaders in the House, Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA) are asking for an independent study of U.S. nuclear facilities.

Upton-Inhofe Dirty Air Bill - House vote within weeks

Representative Fred Upton's (R-MI) Dirty Air Bill passed a key House subcommittee last week and will receive full consideration in the Energy and Commerce Committee today. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has promised a House floor vote "within weeks." The Upton bill is very similar to the Poe Amendment passed weeks ago by the House during the last round of budget amendments. Two hundred forty-nine members of the House are already on record in support of gutting the Clean Air Act..

  • Upton claims that gutting the Clean Air Act and permanently stopping regulations for big polluters like coal plants will "stop rising gas prices." The nonpartisan fact-checkers at Politifact disagree.
  • Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) will use Upton's attack on the Clean Air Act as an opportunity to force a vote on climate science.
  • On the Senate side, an identical bill authored by Senator Inhofe (R-OK) has 44 cosponsors, including one Democrat: Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who faces reelection in 2012.

Budget Fights Continue

After two weeks of stalemate, Senate and House leaders are expected to pass yet another short-term spending bill, funding the government through April 8th. The short-term bill will not include attacks on the Clean Air Act. Extending budget deadlines is taking its toll on party unity amongst House Republicans, who are split on how far to go in their efforts to use budget deadlines as leverage. Failure to strike a deal on yet another short-term spending bill could result in a government shutdown. The outlook for consensus on spending through September 2011 remains uncertain. However some key voices have come out in recent weeks favoring a "clean bill," that cuts spending without blocking key regulatory measures like the Clean Air Act.

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