WASHINGTON, DC – House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke at the Nuclear Energy Institute's 2009 Nuclear Energy Assembly this morning on the steps Congress is currently taking to enact comprehensive energy reform, including clean energy legislation and its nuclear provisions. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“I want to welcome you to this conference. I want to applaud your commitment to clean air, to lower emissions, and to the nuclear technology that will help get us there. My message to you is a simple one: nuclear energy is part of the solution.
“In all my years in Congress, we have never had a better chance to transform America’s energy strategy than the chance we’ll have in the next few months. Along with healthcare reform, energy legislation may be the defining work of the 111th Congress—so it is essential that we get it right. I am glad that we continue to make progress on energy legislation: Chairmen Waxman and Markey expect it to be reported out of committee by Memorial Day, and we expect it on the House floor before August recess.
“Of course, the part of that bill that has attracted the most public attention has been its cap-and-trade provisions. Cap-and-trade would be America’s first serious effort to account for the cost of carbon emissions—and it would be our most important response to global warming to date. Of course, the questions surrounding an emissions cap—scientific, economic, and political questions—are extremely complex. But for more Americans every day, this is at base a moral question. As conservative columnist Michael Gerson put it last week: ‘For many Americans, especially the young, concern about carbon emissions and climate disruption is no longer a conviction; it is a value.’
“For those concerned that the costs of cap-and-trade are too high, I answer that two costs are higher. First, the cost of inaction. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that warming of at least 7 degrees by 2100 will cost us 3 percent of America’s real projected GDP. The longer we wait to act on emissions, the more painful—and expensive—the consequences will be. And second, the opportunity cost to our economy of not seizing the growing global interest in the most important emerging economic sector: new energy technology. Cap-and-trade legislation will send a strong price signal to the private sector, spurring innovation in renewable energy technology and the creation of clean energy jobs.
“But there is more to the coming energy legislation than cap-and-trade. There is a renewable electricity standard of 20% by 2020, which allows up to 5% of the standard to be met with energy efficiency, with flexibility for governors to lower the standard further. New nuclear energy is excluded from the baseline.
“And there is a provision especially important to me: allowing companies to offset some of their emissions by becoming stewards of the world’s forests. For all the talk about fossil fuels, the destruction of the world’s forests is one of the most dangerous—and most overlooked—causes of global warming. That destruction is responsible for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions—more than all cars, trucks, buses, and planes put together. That’s why the Waxman-Markey draft includes both direct investments to prevent deforestation and provisions that allow companies to claim some credit for reducing emissions by funding the conservation of forests, in America and throughout the world. By getting developing countries to cap their forestry sectors, the legislation would provide an important way for the developing world to buy into a system of emissions reduction. And it would allow American businesses a less expensive and more flexible way to curb emissions.
“And then there is the part of the energy legislation nearest and dearest to you: the provisions that affect nuclear energy. I want to make this very clear: as important as cap-and-trade is, any policy with a realistic chance of fighting emissions, protecting our economy, and breaking our dependence on foreign sources of energy must be a policy that invests in nuclear power. I know that that view is not shared by everyone. However, I am working to ensure that the alternative of nuclear power, which I believe is safe and carbon-neutral, is very much a part of our energy policy.
“As you know, one of the biggest issues facing the development of new nuclear power reactors is cost—a new plant requires an investment of $5 billion to $7 billion up front. I worked to make sure that the Title 17 loan guarantee program, the federal mechanism the industry needs to develop new plants, stayed funded at $18.5 billion in the Fiscal 2009 Omnibus. I also want to make sure that that program is workable, so I have supported and contributed to the amendment that will be offered by Chairman Emeritus Dingell at the markup of the energy legislation.
“That amendment will add a nuclear title to the legislation, so let me explain some of its components. First, in changing the Title 17 loan guarantee program, the nuclear title makes clear that a final term sheet from the Secretary of Energy constitutes a binding commitment. That will allow energy projects to obtain the non-federal financing they need with surety that the federal government will proceed. The title also makes a long-overdue change affecting labor, which the nuclear industry should be commended for supporting: it adds Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protections to the Title 17 program. When the federal government helps fund new energy projects, it is only right that we ensure that the workers building them get fair wages.
“The amendment offered by Chairman Dingell would also create a new Clean Energy Deployment Administration at DOE. This provision has broad support among Democrats of many different political views and from many different regions, from Chairman Dingell, to Rep. Inslee, to Majority Whip Clyburn, to myself. The Clean Energy Deployment Administration, with members appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, would provide financing to a wide range of energy technologies, including nuclear projects.
“The idea of a new funding mechanism for energy projects, in the form of an Energy Bank, is being debated in committee on both sides of Congress, and I’m glad it is. But I also want to stress that it should not immediately displace existing programs. For those who have waited patiently in line for Title 17 loan guarantees, it would be unfair to now go to the back of the line.
“Financing, though, is not the only long-term nuclear issue. There’s the issue of industrial infrastructure—making sure we have the steel forging capacity to build nuclear plants as quickly as possible, with American workers. There’s the issue of labor. Again, I want to commend the nuclear industry for being so labor-friendly—not just for arguing for the incorporation of Davis-Bacon wage protections in Title 17, but also for building new plants under project labor agreements. When it comes to providing good-paying jobs for American workers, you are one of our economy’s leading sectors—and I hope other utilities will follow your lead.
“Finally, of course, there’s the issue of waste. Although waste storage at Yucca Mountain is in serious doubt, the issue of nuclear waste is not going away; it deserves serious, bicameral talks, and possibly even a national commission. As long as nuclear power remains an important part of our national energy portfolio, nuclear waste will be a national issue—and the House will have an important role to play in the debate.
“I told you when I began that nuclear power is part of the solution. I say ‘part’ because there is no one single solution to America’s energy needs. We cannot, and we must not, put all of our energy eggs in a single basket. What I believe in, and what I will continue to advocate, is a policy of balance: from renewables to coal with carbon capture, from investment in energy efficiency to investment in nuclear energy. I will keep arguing that nuclear power has a vital place in that mix, and that it deserves our government’s support.”