Energy & Environment

Solving the problem of nuclear waste

At a time when our nation is making tough choices about spending, I am amazed that Congressman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and other House Republicans are demanding we dump $100 billion into Yucca Mountain. This shuttered boondoggle, located 90 minutes from Las Vegas, is nothing more than an empty hole in the Nevada desert.

While some are seeking to use the tragic events in Japan to once again push for moving nuclear waste to Nevada, they fail to mention that Yucca Mountain is located smack in the middle of an earthquake zone. 


Weighing the future of our big outdoors

We westerners take great pride in and have great appreciation for a life that affords us access to the mountains, forests and deserts that make up our beautiful home states. True, most of us reside or work in towns and cities where we all embrace a way of life that benefits from the development of our natural resources. But many of us choose to live in these states largely because doing so enables us to easily enjoy the great outdoors – the wide open spaces and endless vistas we see beyond our towns or just past the edge of the interstate, as we rush through our daily lives.

Every westerner knows that the management of our federal lands -- the public lands quite literally owned by all Americans - can be quite contentious.  For example, years ago, some believed there was a case to be made for damming the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Others felt just the opposite, controversy flared, and ultimately, no dams were built. 


US needs nuclear waste storage site

The March 11 earthquake in Japan led to a tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. While a similar situation is not likely at any U.S. nuclear plant, we must use this to look at our country’s lack of a central storage facility for nuclear waste.

The first commercial nuclear power plant began operating in the United States in 1960. In 1982 the Nuclear Waste Policy Act made the federal government responsible for collecting nuclear waste.

In 1987, Yucca Mountain was named the sole site for a permanent repository of nuclear waste. The Department of Energy (DOE) confirmed the scientific side of this decision in 1994. In 2002, Congress and the President approved Yucca Mountain again. In 2008, DOE filed a license application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build Yucca Mountain.

Obviously, the decision to move forward with a national nuclear waste repository has been supported by Republican- and Democrat-controlled Congresses and Republican and Democrat presidents for all these years.


Blocking EPA regs threat to security goals

The Senate recently rejected proposals — originating from both sides of the aisle — that sought to delay or even prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from setting clean air standards.

Some even went further, proposing to undercut proven aspects of the Clean Air Act which have dramatically improved our health and America’s air and water quality. As a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and a national security strategist, I believe that both the Democratic and Republican-sponsored proposals that were considered yesterday would have set our nation on the wrong path.

My concern stems from a simple truth: Our dependence on fossil fuels generally—and oil specifically—is a serious threat to our national security.


Putting the market in ethanol policy

America is second to none when responding to crises, economic, environmental, or otherwise, and Capitol Hill is already flooded with solutions to the current oil price crisis. Where we struggle at times is implementing forward-looking policies that respond to peaks and valleys in energy prices without requiring immediate and too often knee-jerk policy responses. But, we have done some things.


A program worth saving

This is a story about a problem that we can solve with a bit of help from Congress.
Fifteen years ago, there was no such thing as a clean diesel. Big city transit riders held their breath when the bus pulled away from the curb, and parents worried about their children being exposed to plumes of black smoke from the tailpipes of old school buses. Diesel trucks brought us the goods we wanted, but with a side dish of pollution.
Today, new diesel buses, trucks and other engines are more than 90 percent cleaner. These new diesel engines operate smoke-free, have created thousands of new jobs in the hard-hit engine manufacturing sector and elsewhere, and are helping to save escalating fuel costs by operating more efficiently. A national diesel clean-up effort has enjoyed broad, bipartisan support.  


Protecting our air and public health

Californians, like all Americans, love breathing clean, healthy air. We relish that picture perfect moment: a clear view of the mountains or ocean, kids playing soccer or baseball, enjoying a picnic in the park on a warm day, or just a brisk walk with the dog.

There are also the moments we'd like to forget -- missed school or missed work due to bad air days, asthma and bronchial attacks and the associated costs to families, business, and the economy. 

The EPA and Clean Air Act have delivered much good for us over the past 40 years - everything from reducing lead levels in the air by 92 percent to preventing hundreds of thousands of premature deaths, millions of asthma attacks and more. A recent EPA report revealed that in 2010 alone, the Clean Air Act reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution have prevented more than 160,000 cases of premature mortality, 130,000 heart attacks, 1.7 million asthma attacks and 13 million lost work days.


Congress on wrong side of history in denying climate change

Right now in our hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota, we are preparing for what might possibly be record-breaking floods due to winter’s heavy snowfall and the threat of heavier spring downpours. Minnesota has already experienced two 100-year floods in the Red River Valley within the past 13 years. Local doctors report an increase in cases of children with asthma and other respiratory conditions. Lake Superior has seen record low water levels in recent years, threatening not only drinking water supplies but the Duluth-Superior port that receives more than 1,200 ships and 48 million tons of cargo.
All of these public health, economic, and environmental trends have been strongly linked to climate change. Multiple studies have shown that 97 percent of the most qualified climate scientists are in agreement that humans are causing the planet to warm. If this was an illness, and 97 percent of doctors recommended a certain treatment, we would take appropriate action.


Shedding light on the future, not the past

Reports of the death of the incandescent light bulb in 2012 are greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain.  In fact, the reports just aren’t true. 

The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), signed into law by President George W. Bush, isn’t a ban on incandescent bulbs, but requires light bulbs to be more efficient – the same type of standard that brought us more fuel-efficient cars and more energy-efficient appliances. It is a bipartisan step in the right direction – for business, the consumer, and our environment. 


Keeping critical elements flowing

China’s threat to slash its export of some metals by 35% this year is causing panic in congressional hearing rooms. Some Members of Congress are proposing to hoard minerals to safeguard our future. That’s not only unnecessary, it’s counterproductive. The fact is we are not running out of anything anytime soon. Instead the U.S. faces short-term disruptions in supply that can be smoothed-out with a thoughtful, coordinated strategy.

When viewed from a narrow perspective, the U.S. energy future might look precarious. Emerging technology options abound with exotic elements. Electric cars use dysprosium, wind turbines utilize neodymium, advanced solar cells are coated with tellurium. Scaling up any of those technologies will require kilotons of these energy critical elements (ECEs), over 90% of which are mined outside the U.S.