President Obama's State of the Union address and subsequent endorsement of $54 billion in federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants left the environmental movement seething out in the cold. As we wrote in our Beyond Nuclear press release, Obama made an apparent "farewell speech to the environmental movement" when he came out in favor of not only more nuclear power but that other oxymoron "clean coal," along with offshore oil drilling. Friends of the Earth called it a "kick in the gut" while the student energy movement - Energy Action Coalition - noted that this was not the energy policy for which they helped to get Obama elected. What then must we do to ensure that the Obama White House gets out of the reverse gear its energy plan is stuck in?
The enthusiasm for President Obama’s State of the Union call for more nuclear energy, "clean coal" and offshore oil drilling has echoed long beyond the nauseating applause it received in the House chamber last week.
The Washington Post, true to its reactionary colors, applauded it. The Right is reveling. The high-paid Princes of Polluters and Capitol Hill lobbyists are walking around with their heads held more smugly aloft than usual.
Not applauding are environmentalists. They have arrived, perhaps too late, at the realization that the Republican defectors and middle-ground independents who helped vote Obama into office are more important to him than the tens of thousands of greens, students and others on the Left who foolishly rode the Messianic wave of euphoria that ushered in the supposed era of "Change."
The green left is angry at this betrayal. The fact that they should have seen this coming from a man with his own corporate logo, and the bedfellows to go with it, is no compensation. Certainly, it hurts much worse when someone of Obama’s evident intelligence and promise betrays us. We expect George W. Bush or John McCain to push for billions of dollars for the great CON game of coal, oil and nuclear. But coming from Obama it is a more bitter blow. Thus, the resulting rage is commensurately greater as well.
However, as one student activist from the Energy Action Coalition – a student mass movement that stumped hard for Obama – blogged recently, unless you are still wearing the same rosy-colored spectacles you donned during the Obama campaign, none of this should come as a surprise.
Obama’s friends, whom he has elevated (in some cases back) to high places include:
• Rahm Emanuel, Chicago native and Obama’s Chief of Staff. Emanuel says Exelon chairman, John Rowe, is his mentor. Emanuel was an investment banker on a merger that created Exelon. Exelon, headquartered in Chicago, is the biggest nuclear company in the U.S. Emanuel called Rowe for advice when first offered the White House position. Unsurprisingly, Rowe was just last week nominated to a cushy slot on the Department of Energy’s"Blue Ribbon Commission on Nuclear Waste."
• David Axelrod, top political advisor. Axelrod, another Chicago resident, has been a paid consultant for, among others, Exelon.
• Jason Grumet. Grumet, another Chicago native, was Obama’s energy advisor during his presidential campaign. However, his day job is as founder and president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, whose board chair is. . . John Rowe.
It got worse, of course, just days after the State of the Union address, when it emerged that the White House would today push for $54 billionin federal loan guarantees for new reactor construction as part of the Department of Energy budget rollout. Pundits suggested this was an attempt to placate the Republicans and some of their Democratic allies who have been pushing for as much as $100 billion.
The Department of Energy has already been authorized to hand out $18.5 billion in nuclear loan guarantees – an award it is expected to make some time this month, with Plant Vogtle in Georgia the expected recipient. However, $54 billion is a heck a lot of placating. And it makes a mockery of Obama’s rhetoric about green jobs, renewable energy and energy efficiency and any real commitment to mitigating climate change. It also makes the Clinton administration – which cut such nuclear pork – look green by comparison.
Obama may yet discover that Hell hath no fury like environmentalists scorned. With his popularity slipping, the president could have a fight on his hands three years from now. Cutting loose his environmentalist constituents could fatally narrow the already diminishing margin needed to deliver his re-election. As one colleague recently told me, we should not throw Obama under the bus just yet. But, as environmentalists, we need to let him know that our support is waning.
It’s time to make noise, a lot of noise, and more than virtual noise via blogs and Facebook that handcuff us to our computers and Blackberries. In France in 2006, the mere whiff of a new reactor proposed for a small coastal community in Normandy brought 30,000 to the streets of Cherbourg. With wasteful spending of such titanic proportions threatened on our soil can we not muster a similar crowd of opposition outside the White House before this energy policy of yesteryear hits the inevitable ice berg (unless climate change gets all the ice bergs first)?
Energy Action Coalition could and should take the lead. After all, it’s their immediate future that’s being mortgaged by their shining knight who used and discarded them once the election battle was won.