Local pastor visits 60 Congressional offices and meets with CA Senators; Feinstein pledges to oppose new nuclear plants
By Rev. Peter Moore-Kochlacs
Special Correspondent for the Southern California Ecumenical Council, the National Religious Coalition for Creation Care and the Green Ecumenical and Interfaith Religious Communities in California
May 14, 2011 (El Cajon) -- April 29 to May 6 was a working week for me in Washington, DC. I was in the Capitol advocating against our government’s current new nuclear power public policies.
Visiting over 60 Congressional Senate and House offices, I made the point on moral, safety and financial grounds that in light of the Fukushima, Japan nuclear power plant accidents and other problems inherent with nuclear energy, the federal government should stop permitting the building of new US land-based nuclear power plants.
New land-based nuclear power plants are currently one major questionable component of the “clean energy”/climate change mitigation electrical generation solution that is being pushed by the President, a majority in Congress, the US Department of Energy , the nuclear power Industry and its allies and even some of the business-focused environmental organizations.
Responding and advocating on behalf of the Southern California Ecumenical Council, the National Religious Coalition for Creation Care, other congregations and people of faith, I brought to Capitol Hill an interfaith “Resolution” and a “Call” statement. They are positions that essentially oppose this way of boiling water as an intelligent way of lowering greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere. The Resolution, which I rolled out in meetings through Capitol Hill, insists that the federal government stop giving permits to build new land-based nuclear power plants.
Over 65 new nuclear power plants are in one phase or another of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency pipe line. These phases of development include concept, proposal, design, permit granting or construction. Two projects have stopped in Texas due to economics.
The “Call” statement that I presented in Congressional and government department meetings demanded that U.S. taxpayers not be forced by the President, Congress and the Department of Energy to offer billions of dollars of loan guarantees to the nuclear power industry to build these new problematic land-based nuclear power plants. If U.S. financial institutions believe these loans are extremely risky to make and if the environmental impacts of nuclear power plant accidents are potentially huge and if both religion and humanitarian science questions the morality of the destruction of the DNA chain such plans risk, why should the taxpayers be forced to underwrite these loans let alone permit them to be built?
My prearranged appointments were with energy staff persons in California Senator Boxer’s (Kathy Dedrick) and Feinstein’s (Adam Christiansen and Matthew B. Nelson) offices and San Diego Congressional members’ Duncan Hunter (Vicki Middleton), Capps (Jonathan Levenshus) and Darrell Issa’s (Michael O’Neill & Adaline Maushardt) offices. Rep. Issa’s and Capps’ districts contain California’s two nuclear power plants. These are the San Onofre Nuclear Plant near the city of San Clemente and Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant near the city of San Luis Obispo. Congressman Hunter is my Congressional District representative.
I was able to confirm my appointments at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Department of Energy (DOE) through the very helpful actions of the offices of California's two Senators. For 55 of the 60 Congressional offices I was not able or did not have the time to make confirmed appointments before I arrived on Capitol Hill so I made cold calls. It appeared beneficial at these times to wear my clergy collar. It quietly focused the staffs’ attention on me.
I spent as much time as possible in these front offices, generally about five minutes, talking with low-key passion about the Resolution and Call. I shared also materials from Ace Hoffman of Carlsbad, California, one that dealt with the impacts of the Fukushima Nuclear Power accident and the other that looked at the medical effects of nuclear radiation on the human body. I said to the front office staffers that this material was of urgent importance needing to be brought to the attention of their energy staffer. I asked for and almost always received this energy staffer’s business card with the all-important email address on it.
My hour-long 8:30 a.m. Friday May 6th appointment/phone conversation with Director John Gross of the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy Policy was pleasant….however during our discussion on the issues around new land-based nuclear power plants and the DOE’s research and policy relationship to nuclear power, I thought him to be somewhat evasive and mildly condescending. I explained the faith based community I represented, positions and concerns, and John explained that the DOE just implements the research policies and priorities that Congress and the Administration set. It has no advocacy role. Hmmm!
Given the head of the DOE, Steven Chu, had a major role in developing President Obama’s position on nuclear energy as a component of the “clean” energy solution, Mr. Gross’ view seems doubtful to me. I wondered with John about the Department’s initiation of requests for increases in the DOE’s yearly budget to Congress for nuclear energy research and the new grant/subsidies for graduate nuclear engineering students. He responded with silence.
Further and he did not disagree with me that if the power industry could get permitted, built and on-line over the next ten years in the U.S. 25 new land-based nuclear power plants, this at unimaginable financial costs, the C02/carbon footprint reduction for the nation would only be 2%! There was no disagreement on these facts. I then pointed out to him that our country through conservation, new efficiencies, best practices and clean alternative energy solutions could achieve the same or better CO2 reductions with less cost and fewer public health and safety risks.
Before our discussion concluded, I raised other similar concerns around the current old land-based nuclear power plants and the issue of the international nuclear power technology transfers. I note the context of these technical transfer issues later in this report.
John continued to say during our conversation that nuclear power safety and related safety policy issue rests with the NRC and not the DOE. Okay, but what about research and technical development before the actually final design and engineering is done by private industry and then monitored by the NRC? One has to say, if fail-safe and nuclear waste free power plants cannot be developed through DOE research after more than fifty years of work and tens of billions of dollars spent, then doesn’t DOE need to raise the white flag of surrender?
The lack of a design for truly safe nuclear power reactors and successful research for 100,000 year permanently safe nuclear waste solutions seems to me to sit with the nuclear engineers at the DOE. Given the failure of this research, shouldn’t there be whistle blowers at the DOE?
One additional new item related to the DOE that should be of grave concern to us in the religious creation care community is the Republican suggested merger of the DOE with the Environmental Protection Agency. What a disaster that would be. I comment a little more on this elsewhere.
I believe the meeting with officials at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission had more impact on the participants. There were three of us at this hour meeting at the NRC headquarters on Tuesday, May 3th, in Rockville, Maryland. In attendance were Spiros Droggitis, Associate Director for Federal and External Affairs, Office of Congressional Affairs and Eric Leeds, director of the Office of the Office of Nuclear Regulation. My presentation to Spiros and Eric about our Resolution and the Call paralleled what I have previously shared about my discussions on Capitol Hill and with the DOE.
I was clear with them that I thought that the NRC permitting of new nuclear power plants was morally, financial and strategically wrong under the clouds of Fukushima, Japan nuclear power accident. It was also wrong as we reflect during this 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power melt-down the continuing nuclear pollution and human medical surfacing there. I pointed out new earthquake studies, more common three hundred year climatic events occurring, the unsolved and unresolved nuclear/radioactive waste issues, uranium mining and processing issues, the lack of any real protection of in the face of possible terrorist attacks on spent nuclear fuel rod cooling ponds and dry casks, the poor or insufficient maintenance of components and equipment at these plants, the worker morale issue and more.
They were clear that the NRC staff was dedicated to their work of ensuring the safety of the people of the nation and that they were persons who would go the second mile in Biblical terms to insure nuclear power plant safety. They believe they are the nuclear energy cops for the nation. They also believed they can use this policing force only to the extent that Congress allows. No heroes here.
It seems apparent to me that the NRC staff and its appointed directors are not going to be the nation’s whistle-blowers. They are however very concerned and are putting together a report and recommendations on the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident which will be released at a public hearing any day now. They want to be able to implement their recommendations as soon as possible.
There are other important related studies going on in the commission which they pointed out to me including a two year study on the learning from Fukushima that public comment will be sought and incorporated into their additional public policy recommendations. Two years is a long time and remember their recommendations are only recommendations. I learned after this meeting from another source that 90% of the NRC’s budget income comes from fees collected from the nuclear power industry and that this industry has a lot to say about what recommendations get implemented and the extent to which the recommendations get implemented! This influence is not unlike the influence of the Koch brothers in the coal industry and we are well aware of the Koch brothers corrupting financial and political power.
The religious coalition that focused on climate change issues that I was associated with while in Washington, DC had a breakfast honoring Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the EPA. Our National Religious Coalition on Creation Care celebrated her strong work to enforce the Clean Air Act in the face of the corrupting corporate and regressive political interests in the country today. Through one of Lisa Jackson’s senior staffer I was able to explain and pass along to the EPA our Nuclear Power Resolution and Call.
It is sadly ironic that at the end of this week those corrupting powers presented a bill to merge the EPA with the Department of Energy! I received an inkling that this was to come in my conversation with Congressman Issa’s Energy staffer. This action would put the proverbial fox in the hen house and be an environmental safety disaster for the people of our nation. I wonder which corporate sponsored conservative “think” tank helped author this legislation.
What were the immediate results of six business days of walking the corridors of Capitol Hill? Did the Administration reverse its policies for new land-based nuclear powers plants as a part of their “clean” energy initiative? No. Did it rescind its loan guarantee program that encourages building new nuclear power plants? No.
Did I get a sense that my religious voice was amplifying the voice of the religious and large section of the environmental and scientific community who oppose new land-based nuclear power plants as a “clean energy” solution to deal with greenhouse/global warming gases? Yes! Did any Senator or Congressperson tell me the United States should stop moving ahead on permitting the building of new land-based nuclear power plants? Yes!
I directly asked Senator Feinstein this question at her constituents’ breakfast on Wednesday, May 4th, in the Dirksen Senate Building. She responded, “The simple answer is yes.” This is what I had hoped to hear at the other Congressional offices, but the Senator’s response is a key start. Her statement is the important beginning in this process of bringing the moral and practical voice to Congress on this issue.
Senator Boxer hosted at noon that same Wednesday in the Hart Senate Building a town hall meeting. (I had met the previous Friday with Kathy Dedrick on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which the Senator chair’s to discuss the interfaith community’s position on permitting the building of new land-based nuclear power plants. She was very interested in what I had to offer and was the person responsible through the Senator’s office for helping me complete my appointment with at the NRC.)
The Senator, at these town hall meetings, greets delegations from California, listens briefly to their concerns and then provides a photo opportunity. I had the wonderful opportunity at this gathering to say hello and meet Mr. Harpreet Sandhu, a Sikh, and a Governor’s appointee to the California State Board of Disabilities. I found he was very interested in our Interfaith Resolution against the permitting the building of new land-based nuclear power plants in the United States. Mr. Sandhu requested the interfaith community's help in opposing the transfer of US nuclear power technology to India. Harpreet was not only extremely concerned that the Indian government planned to place a nuclear power plant in the Sikh state of Punjab but was as concerned about the larger issue of nuclear power technology transfers to an unstable region where Pakistan and China already have nuclear weapons. And yes, like the Sikh delegation, I had my picture taken with the Senator and posted it on Facebook.
At the breakfast honoring Lisa Jackson, a Muslim Imam spoke on the Muslim tradition of creation care. I was able to make him aware and interest him in our Nuclear Power Resolution and Call. At the 50th anniversary celebration of Reformed Judaism Religious Action Center (RAC), where former Vice President Al Gore was the keynote speaker, I had an opportunity to briefly discuss the Resolution and Call with two influential members of a related board. I did have the opportunity also to share this material with Rabbi Stone of Temple Emanuel, a national leader in the green movement within Reformed Judaism.
The other religious leadership I interfaced with in person while I was in Washington, DC included my denomination's Environmental and Economic Justice staffer, John Hill, with whom I discussed bringing our Nuclear Power Resolution before the General Conference of the United Methodist Church April 24 – May 4, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. I had dinner with Jaydee Hanson and his wife Jane. Jaydee is the author of the “Call” and former Assistant General Secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society. Additionally, I had phone and/or email communications with Leslie Wood of the Washington Office of Public Witness of the Presbyterian Church, USA and Cassandra Carmichael, Director of the Washington, DC Office of the National Council of Churches. I left our materials at their desks for their review and action. It is very important for Regional and State Councils of Churches throughout the United States to bring this Resolution and Call to the next NCC General Assembly.
I thank all of you, my family included, who were and are continuing to support my advocacy on behalf of the religious community on these issues. Your prayers, good thoughts and encouragement are deeply appreciated. Friends, you have allowed me to quite literally walk the talk!