A Modest Proposal: We need a clean energy PAC

A portion of a page from NEI's most recent (3/31/14) filing with the Federal Election Commission.

A portion of a page from NEI’s most recent (3/31/14) filing with the Federal Election Commission.

The time has come for the clean energy/anti-nuclear movement to get serious. Actually, it’s well past that time.

By serious, I mean playing politics–for real.

This movement, of which I’m proud to have been a part for more than 30 years now, has had a lot of success–even in Congress. Far more success than our presence, or lack thereof, on Capitol Hill and in political venues generally, would indicate.

*We stopped Mobile Chernobyl and “interim” high-level radioactive waste storage in 2000, and again this year.

*We got the NRC’s noxious “Below Regulatory Concern” radioactive waste deregulation policy repealed by Congress.

*For six years, from 2007-2012, we beat back every effort–at least nine of them–to increase funding for the Department of Energy’s nuclear loan program.

Those are pretty significant accomplishments, and just some of the big ones. There have been more.

But we’ve lost a lot too, and perhaps more importantly we haven’t been able to advance our agenda, especially in recent years. We’ve been forced to react, to focus on stopping bad things, or at least the worst things. We have been much less successful at getting any meaningful legislation passed that would actually improve things.

A few examples:

*Repeal of Price-Anderson
*Expansion of emergency planning zones
*Amending or undoing the Atomic Energy Act
*Passing a ten million solar rooftops bill

You’ll surely be able to think of many items to add to this list.

Yesterday, we reported on the Top 20 Congressional recipients of Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) campaign cash from 2003-2012. We hope to soon post a full list of every candidate who took money from the NEI during that period.

As we noted, the NEI spent more than $2 million during that period–and it is just one of dozens, maybe even hundreds, of pro-nuclear PACS giving money to your legislators. Just about every utility has a PAC. So do the reactor manufacturers, and the nuclear suppliers, radioactive waste companies, fuel cycle companies, mining companies. All told, millions of dollars of nuclear industry money flow to Congressional campaigns every year. And an awful lot of these companies have a lobbying presence in Washington, and in state capitols as well.

The anti-nuclear movement spent zero on campaign contributions during that period. That’s right, zero. And the number of lobbyists working on nuclear issues from a critical perspective can be counted on less than two hands.

The wonder is not that the nuclear industry is successful in setting the nuclear agenda on Capitol Hill, the wonder is that we’ve won anything at all. For that, we credit both the many thousands of activists and concerned people across the country who have acted on these issues over the years and our movement’s ability to bring facts and reason to the table. After all, we’re not working out of greed–no one has ever gotten rich from the anti-nuclear movement–we’re working because we care deeply about our country and our planet, and the facts are on our side.

But facts, reason, and public support are rarely enough on Capitol Hill. To set an agenda, we need access, we need more candidates with an explicitly nuclear-free, carbon-free energy position, and we need fewer Congressmembers beholden to the nuclear industry.

The way to get that is to elect those candidates and defeat the other ones. And that requires participating in the political process. It requires money. In my view, it requires the establishment of a clean energy PAC and support for that PAC from donors large and small across the country.

I say that with some hesitation, because the anti-nuclear movement has historically been terribly underfunded, even by typical non-profit standards. NIRS’ budget should easily be twice what it is–and even then we’d still be underfunded. The same holds true for all anti-nuclear groups. So the idea of establishing yet another organization that requires funding is, well, a little scary.

But a clean energy PAC–a PAC that exists to support and build a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system–need not require a lot of money, especially at the beginning.

There aren’t that many explicitly anti-nuclear candidates waiting in the wings; they’ll need to be recruited (a task made much easier if there is funding support available from a PAC). There are plenty of existing Congressmembers beholden to the nuclear industry, of course, but we’d have to pick our battles wisely–there would be little point in working to defeat a pro-nuke Member if the alternative was a slightly less rabid pro-nuke Member.

Senate races are extraordinarily expensive; we’d have to stay out of those until the PAC built up. But for a relatively modest amount of money–say $25,000 or so (more is always better, of course), a PAC could make a difference in a few House races. We’d pick one or two candidates to back, where the candidate’s anti-nuclear position would be visible and part of the campaign. With only a very few candidates supported at first we’d want the nuclear issue to be as high-profile as possible. Or, we might go where a candidate’s high-profile pro-nuclear positions could be used against them. A few very public victories–electing a new member and/or defeating an incumbent–and the PAC should grow rapidly. Success breeds success.

We’ll never have the kind of money the nuclear industry can contribute to candidates, of course. But we don’t need that much. It’s not a spending battle, it’s about using money wisely and picking battles carefully–and that’s something the anti-nuclear movement (and if I can boast a little here, especially NIRS) can take pride in doing throughout its existence.

I should note here that NIRS, and nearly all anti-nuclear groups, are 501(c)(3) organizations. We’re prohibited from endorsing candidates or working for or against any candidates for public office, at any level. So a clean energy PAC would not be based at any existing organization. It would have to be entirely new, and probably at the beginning with volunteer or very part-time staff. But staff members of 501(c)(3) organizations could serve on the PAC’s Board of Directors, on their own time. And it would be crucial to have an active, fairly large, wide-ranging, broad-based Board of Directors to make the idea work.

I want to know what you think. Do you support this idea? Would you support it financially? Would you support it financially and still give to the existing anti-nuclear organizations you support? What pitfalls do you see? What advantages do you see? Please give your thoughts in the comments; let’s start a discussion. And fill out the poll below as well.

There may be other alternatives. For example, instead of a standard PAC that gives to candidates, would it make more sense to establish an organization–like both the right and left use–that advocates on issues during campaigns, that attacks pro-nukers and supports anti-nuclear positions, without actually endorsing candidates (always a fine line, one that is crossed frequently in my view)? Or some combination of the two? This is the new world after the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions. We can all bemoan those decisions and seek to overturn them, and we should, but in the meantime pretending they don’t exist and not becoming involved in the political process will just set us back further and allow the nuclear industry to expand its ability to set the agenda.

In my view, it’s past time to get serious about the political process. It’s time to set a new energy agenda for our nation. The climate crisis is real and is finally getting some attention. Nuclear power can’t solve it, but clean energy can. We don’t have a radioactive waste policy in this country at present; Congress is going to have to establish one. Decisions on these and other critical issues are going to be made that will affect us all for decades, if not permanently–not this year, but perhaps next, and certainly after 2016. If we want those decisions to be made based on the facts, on what is best for our country and planet, we need to participate in a much stronger way than we have so far. And if we want the ability to begin setting the agenda, to make the idea of a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system the nation’s goal and not just a discussion topic among ourselves, we need to take action. Let’s get to it.

Michael Mariotte

May 8, 2014

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/05/08/a-modest-proposal/

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26 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal: We need a clean energy PAC

  1. Bruce r

    Indeed. Am sitting in Columbia’s Low Library listening to Statoil’s CEO reshape ‘sustainability’ as maintaining corps forever – in his case a state corp. This Center for Global Energy 1st anniv. Symposium is being live streamed.

  2. Robert Roth

    The whole business of “Green Energy” has gotten complicated. E.g., otherwise good, progressive officeholders think biomass is a great “renewable energy” idea, although it is dirtier environmentally than coal and contributes to deforestation. Wind energy has run into the problem — well, let’s say, myriad birds have run into the problems with wind power. So there should be a process like this one for defining the cause before backing candidates. And, energy alternatives based on continuing the present Western lifestyle are not practical. Conservation, e.g., weatherization of low-income housing, is the cheapest, most cost-effective energy “source” but has gotten short shrift everywhere and should have a prominent place in the definition of “clean” energy.

  3. June Birch

    I think you need to do something! This is a salutary lesson form the U.K. http://www.powerbase.info/index.php/Tony_Blair:_Nuclear_views . A small pronuclear lobby with powerful nuclear connections.. which came first, I don’t know, contributed to the revamping of the nuclear model, in a country, in which as far as I can remember, most people thought nuclear power was not an option, after Chornobyl. If we had had a more effective anti nuclear, pro renewable group in Parliament at that time, things might have been far better.

  4. David W. Stanley

    What is needed in our society is a company to install solar energy at no cost to the home owner if and only if said homeowner would pledge to purchase energy from that company only. If that opportunity existed, solar energy would increase faster than an ice cream cone would melt in boiling water! Catch my drift?

    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      That is, in fact, happening! Several companies are offering leases that provide homeowners with rooftop solar for no money down; the homeowner pays only for the electricity generated by the solar installation. It’s not available everywhere in U.S. yet, but is in a surprising and growing number of regions (like my home state of Maryland).

  5. Diane J. Peterson

    I voted today at 4:03 Central Time, and my computer misbehaved so that my vote for an issues-oriented organization turned mistakenly into a vote of “terrible idea.” So, please subtract one from “terrible” and add one to “issues.” I have been a Green Party member since 1996, and I do not trust Democrat candidates because those people have routinely betrayed the Democratic voters in the last ten years (or more). Here in Minnesota, the Democratic Congresspeople have been betraying the faithful Democrats who elected them; they promise to support a large spectrum of progressive policies, but they usually vote against important progressive policies in Congress–or they fail to provide sufficient leadership on progressive policies even when they have the opportunity to do so. Therefore, I recommend against an anti-nuke PAC, since progressive PACs fail to meet my expectations. Progressive PACs tend to support Democrats instead of truly progressive candidates, such as Jill Stein for President and our Green-endorsed Minnesota candidates. The Green candidates in Minnesota are always anti-nuke. The people who control PACs consistently fall into status quo thinking, which I have heard for 18 years, and it goes like this: “The Green candidate is better on anti-nuke issues, but has no chance of winning, so it is better to promote the Democratic candidate who says s(he) is anti-nuke. We don’t dare take a chance on the Green candidate–better to play it safe with a Democrat who makes a lot of noise that they are anti-nuke even though the Democratic track record is not as clear-cut as the Green track record.” Avoid the PAC pitfall, and don’t create a PAC. That will give a better chance to anti-nuke candidates who will be continue to be anti-nuke long after the 2014 election and may run again–and again deserve an issues-oriented boost from an anti-nuke think tank. Think long-term. Don’t think short-term “PAC.” Short-term thinking is so like our pro-nuke foes.

  6. Marylia Kelley

    Whether it is a good idea or not (to have a Green Energy PAC) partly depends on whether there is additional funding for it. If there is, then, yes, it may be a good idea. But, if there is not separate dedicated funding available (that would not otherwise be available to the movement), then it may not be such a good idea. If the Green Energy PAC were to inadvertently siphon money out of community organizing or public education, then the long range prognosis might be that it does more harm than good. We need genuine, deep social and political change, and thus we need to make sure that we do not rob one area of our work to open up another. I am commending this to your careful consideration, but am not opposed in principle to a Green Energy PAC.

  7. Randall Wayne

    I am undecided. Are there any precedents you can point to where a single-issue community without deep pockets has formed a PAC and had greater legislative success as a result? And how would you avoid the problem of candidates who have good positions on nuclear power having bad positions on other issues?

    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      Both great questions to consider; not sure we have easy answers. The comparison that comes to mind most readily is abortion rights and NARAL, which started out small–though decades ago, and certainly developed, as a movement, some pretty deep pockets pretty quickly. So that may not be an entirely appropriate comparison. Most single-issue communities that I’m aware of haven’t tried this, but I’d be interested if others know of apt comparisons, both pro and con. As for bad positions on other issues, that’s in the eye of the beholder–I don’t think there is anything approaching unanimity in the anti-nuclear movement on most other issues other than a slight trend to the left overall. Michael

      1. Joanna Kirkpatrick

        To Randall Wayne: IMHO, this definitely is not a single-issue situation.
        Climate change once was dubbed a single issue, look where it is now. Nuclear energy is a mega-environmental issue of climate change proportions. Just consider for one second that the reactors at Fukushima, Japan, after meltdowns, are dumping 500,000 gals. of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean daily. Eventually as this goes on, the ocean will be increasingly dangerous to life and its ecology. So far nobody has figured out how to stop it because nobody knows where the corium (melt-down material) has gone, except down into the earth where it contaminates ground water. I repeat–this is distinctly not a single issue situation.

        As for the fiasco at WIPP, NM, USA– see this link: http://tinyurl.com/ms38pvd .
        A Green World PAC could easily find recruits and donors in New Mexico today. Ironic indeed that their former governor, Bill Richardson, was a huge fan of nuclear power/industries. NM has already been contaminated by an explosion inside WIPP.

      2. Joanna Kirkpatrick

        IMHO anti-nuclear industries and anti-nuke energy is definitely not a single issue. It IS an environmental danger as bad as climate change. Possibly worse, as the oceans get contaminated by the Fukushima nuke fiasco.

  8. Joanna Kirkpatrick


  9. Lucymarie Ruth

    I choose the answer: “Yes, and I would support it financially”

    Too bad one can’t choose multiple answers, because ” I would rather see an issues-oriented organization that can insert itself into electoral campaigns without directly funding candidates”. Unfortunately, I don’t that that option has much chance at all of succeeding.

    And, yes, “This is a terrible idea”. But unfortunately, a necessary idea. I will never understand why the basic education that folks have received from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima doesn’t pull the blinders off of people’s eyes. Your “terrible idea” shouldn’t be necessary, but I think it is.

    I remember reading as a child Heinz Haber’s book “Our Friend The Atom” (made for Disney), that extolled the benefits that nuclear power had in store for mankind just around the corner. People still believe that nonsense. They need to read Denise Levertov’s poem “Uranium”, or simply use some common sense.

    It seems like the powers-that-be are determined to make this saying literally become true: “The sins of the fathers shall be visited on the children to the three hundredth and four hundredth generation (in the form of deadly radioactivity).” Anyone who doubts this should take a look at the EPA’s own statistics on the half-lifes of radioactive substances.

  10. Philip Ratcliff

    Of course, whatever can oppose nuclear power must be tried. But the Obama regime on its own recently agreed to loan Georgia’s Southern Company $6.5 billion, with no strings attached, to build two nuke plants. What can you do when the ruling regime acts on its own like that?

    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      Yes, the loan was granted; but as we mentioned in the article, we managed to block at least nine (may have been a couple more) separate attempts to increase funding to as much as $50 Billion for that loan program (which was set up under the Bush administration). As it is, that is the only loan that has been granted–more than $10 billion remains but it is unlikely more loans will be given (except for the remaining $1.8 billion originally promised for the Vogtle project to Southern’s partners). So, while we don’t get everything we want, neither does the nuclear industry. What concerns us more than specific votes, however, is the industry’s ability to set the agenda on Capitol Hill; right now it is simply impossible to get any “good” legislation through, or even to get a hearing. How to change that, and how to change Congress enough so that nuclear power is regarded as skeptically as it should be, and renewables are regarded as positively as they should be, is our question. Whether a PAC is the answer, we don’t know yet–that’s why we’re looking for everyone’s thoughts. So thanks for yours, and everyone who is commenting and voting!

    2. Joanna Kirkpatrick

      What can we do when the top dog loans out billions of our money?
      We can fight back, deluge his office with protests. Get a lawsuit going. Holding up taxpayers to subsidize this dangerous industry for which there is NO safe storage of the rad waste is insane, and should be sue-able on several grounds.

  11. Paul Kando

    Ultimately money is not going to win. Better ideas will I would not waste energy on a dysfunctional national political system. I would focus on developing better ideas. A Bucky Fuller famously said, if we want change we have.to develop models that make the current model obsolete. No pack can do that

  12. anti nuclear

    There is a new documentary out called “Pandora’s Promise” regarding renewed support for nuclear fuel and new nuclear plant developments in the US.
    Very pro nuclear. Things are looking terrible in this regard. Propaganda on the rise.

    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      That came out nearly a year ago, with a lot of hype and very few people actually going to theaters to watch it. It was later shown on CNN, so got a somewhat bigger audience, but overall, seems like Americans are perfectly happy to avoid pro-nuclear documentaries….But yes, with the formation of Nuclear Matters, which is much more aggressive in its outreach than previous nuclear industry groups, their propaganda definitely is on the rise. But so are the stakes: more reactors are going to close this year and next unless the industry figures out a way to be able to charge ratepayers more for nuclear-generated electricity–and that’s hard to do in the deregulated states where the most endangered reactors operate. Of course, this year, with the introduction of this blog GreenWorld and a much more aggressive media and outreach strategy and presence, NIRS is doing a lot more to get our position out too.

      1. Joanna Kirkpatrick

        Pro-nuke is working at it.
        We need to find rich donors, possibly environmentalist folks, who might be talked into producing an anti-nuke film. Already there are film-docs about GMO–here and overseas– probably there’s one on fracking by now. Know any film producers, anyone?

  13. Phyllis Sladek

    Thank you for the opportunity to voice a concern and an opinion.

    My studies show that the global decline in oil supply is already upon us, the “problem” (reality) is manifest as an economic change (shrinking) and the abrupt cessation of the global industrial economy is a distinct possibility – in fact, the most likely scenario – in the near term. Or, such a contraction of the global industrial system could be a little more gradual. Still, it is already underway and there is no possibility of reversal, so long as the current systems are in place.

    In any case, what we need immediately is to involve the National Academy of Sciences in looking at the very specific question – the one they avoid: the impacts of the decline in total global supply. And proposals for options WRT adaptation and emergency measures.

    For examples and excellent articles, please the blog http://www.ourfiniteworld.com. For an example of a petition effort – (and would I ever welcome help on this and other efforts!) – please see http://www.oildepletion,wordpress.com. This latter has the goal of involving the US National Academy of Sciences.

    One issue is this: First, please assume and understand I’m opposed to nuclear power.

    Next, there is a real question about whether so-called renewables help or – in fact, will actually hasten collapse. Please see, again, articles on the blog above – http://www.ourfiniteworld.com.
    I personally do not hold the view that there is nothing that can be done – or that it is too late. “Business as usual” and growth cannot continue, however, we can still chose paths that may help avoid suffering and better manage the “de-growth.”

    We need to involve scientists who are outside the political system. Also, we need to immediately engage scientists in order to ask questions such as the following: 1) Is it possible to run an industrial economy on an all-electricity basis? if so, what is required in terms of in puts: oil, finance, labor, etc. 2) If it is not possible, then what options exist for immediate measures that can be put in place to lessen the possibility of the worst case scenarios, and attempt to provide basic needs: water, food, etc

    Does this makes sense to you? My studies show that the people who know the most, such as Colin Campbell, Kenneth Deffeyes, and others – except for the “oil depletion protocol” – do not know how to engage the policy system, or see no hope.

    I welcome a conversation and please feel free to email me. I can send you gobs of references on any related topic, including the reports by the US military, the original Hirsch Report (2005) and so forth. The Q of renewables is attractive, but the fundamental issue is really limits to growth and we have reached them. Sincerely, Phyllis Sladek

    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      The one thing I would point out is that there is little link between oil and nuclear power or oil and electricity for that matter. Oil has been essentially phased out over the years as a source of electricity production; it’s typically only used as the last resort peaking power on scorching hot summer days in a few places; overall, including those days, oil accounts for only about 1% of U.S. electricity generation. Renewables, especially solar, are still quite low in terms of percentage of supply, but they are growing rapidly–most new generation these days comes from renewables.

    2. Joanna Kirkpatrick

      The US National Academy of Sciences are part of the problem. They are part of the revolving door between government and many agencies. I suggest that we leave them out of this.

  14. Walker

    The complexity of the energy issue is such that a PAC nominally antinuclear power, would do well to offer support for rooftop solar and other technologies which can reduce the financial control of the large-scale corporate energy industry.
    Yet this approach might dilute the PACs influence, unless it also was joined by photovoltaic tech industry.
    The quest for environmentally sustainable energy usage also must comprise slowing growth, as well as diminishing individual home and workplace energy use. Our tropical species seeks climate reflecting what sun and shade do in those tropic origins – a steady temperature and unruffled weather. Unless we as a species, allow for more variabliity in our home and workplace environments, we cannot sufficiently reduce energy usage. Mere clothing is more efficient environmentally than is the quest for air conditioning or unvarying temperature.

    In all this teh effectveness of a PAC could be overwhelmed, unless all the related industries also supported it; as we now well know, our government, executive, legislative, and judicial are all under the sway of the largest corporate donors, and even the political candidates and appointees hold substantial stakes in the industries leading us to hell. Worse, they enter and leave office through doors to and from those heavy industries.
    The concrete industry for instance, is the most highly energy-intensive, polluting industry imaginable. Simpler liefstyles, simpler accommodations, home or work must be achieved in this overpopulated world, and overdeveloped, ecosystem destroying nation.
    This overpopulation itself stymies the effort toward sustainable, nonpolluting energy. Abandoned mines from South Dakota and Wyoming to Arizona, and the entire southwest still radiate and exude poisons into the water, ground , and air.
    Uranium extraction and refining was a grave mistake, one which most US citizens fail to understand, as most NUclear plants are in the US East while all the “sacrifice” lands are in the West.
    What of Hanford pollution slowly making its way to the Columbia River?
    What of Idaho and elsewhere profiting from the government war machine and experiment using radionuclides?
    I have studied the hydrology and geology (and even some of the metallurgy)which has proven Yuca Mountain to be a grave mistake. We know that it was only proposed and developed through the political strength of those representatives of states which used nuclear power, seeking to dump it where no human was in their minds, watching.
    All Earth’s ecosystems have value – this value is intrinsic and unrelated to the values that a solipsistic human society places upon them. Organisms for thousads to millions of years would suffer from human continuance of nuclear power, but since they cannot line the pockets of corrupt members of this so far extremely short-term human culture, their lives have no value in the eyes of our present cohort.
    How can a PAC change this? A deeper ethic? better scientific and social/ecological education?

    Perhaps such a PAC could become a seed of a better way of life. Perhaps such a PAC is merely domed to be an exercise in sociocorporate phenomenon, lasting and disputing while the Earth violently changes into a quite different stable state – one which for millions of years is diminished, until some Finches radiate into the empty niches left by the passing of most vertebrate life.
    The mission of such a PAC as proposed, would have to be encompassing of far more than its original intent. It would have to form coalitions and perhaps lead development toward complete cultural change. Whatever its fate, it WILL be accused of this intent, and vilified and fought against, and lied about.


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