States are leveraging nuclear energy for bipartisan climate progress
There is no time to lose. According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports released in late February and more recently in April, we are falling short in our efforts to mitigate the climate crisis. It’s not breaking news that the United States needs to take stronger action to accelerate its decarbonization efforts. What’s less obvious is that state policymakers are leaning across the aisle to chart their own paths to net-zero emissions. To accomplish this, many are reevaluating the benefits of nuclear energy, which is uniquely suited to playing a pivotal role alongside wind and solar to help the nation and the world make substantive progress toward reducing emissions.
As a former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy under President Obama and a former ranking Republican from Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives, we often disagree on the best solutions for the climate crisis. However, we can agree on two things: nuclear energy is critical to the success of our climate mitigation strategy, and we are encouraged by the momentum of tech-inclusive energy policies in states across the country. Nuclear energy provides more than half of our nation’s carbon-free energy, making it the largest source we have. This cornerstone of America’s carbon-free energy supply saves our atmosphere from 470 million metric tons of carbon pollution each year, which is equivalent to eliminating pollution from more than 100 million passenger vehicles. Avoiding harmful pollution while providing affordable, reliable energy serves the dual purpose of aiding our progress towards net-zero emissions and improving public health outcomes, especially for the elderly and low-income communities.
Nuclear energy also provides a significant economic stimulus for communities across the country, accounting for 475,000 jobs and $12 billion in tax revenue, which supports schools, infrastructure and services. And as an always-on source of energy, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, existing nuclear power is critical to maintaining the country’s reliable electricity supply, providing stability amid challenging global circumstances.
It is with these myriad benefits in mind that states are pursuing tech-inclusive climate policies that recognize what nuclear energy can offer for the climate, the economy and energy security — both now and in the future. Maryland passed pivotal climate change legislation in April targeting net-zero emissions by 2045 and supporting the continued operation of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant, which provides 81 percent of the state’s carbon-free electricity. West Virginia recently lifted a decades-long ban on the development of nuclear energy as the state grapples with the challenges of retiring coal plants for local economies and industry professionals. Landmark legislation passed this year in Indiana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Virginia would encourage the development of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), which are more adaptable and affordable than conventional reactors. Last year in Illinois, the state legislature took action to keep the existing Byron and Dresden nuclear plants operational, preserving 87.6 percent of the state’s carbon-free electricity. These bills, among many introduced in other states, will enable states to take advantage of nuclear power’s promise for decarbonizing our nation.
When we consider the steps taken in the past year alone by states like Illinois and New Jersey to ensure existing nuclear power plants can continue to provide affordable, reliable energy for decades to come, one thing becomes clear — state policymakers recognize that carbon-free nuclear energy must play a role in building the clean energy futures their constituents deserve.
Unfortunately, progress toward sensible climate solutions like a clean energy production tax credit has stalled at the federal level, even as the effects of our changing climate intensify. If the latest IPCC report is any indication, the consequences of inaction exponentially increase as time marches on.
If we have any hope of turning back the clock on the climate crisis, we need to ensure nuclear energy remains a vital part of our carbon-free energy mix with collaboration from every level of government. As former government officials on opposite sides of the aisle, we know firsthand that clean energy incentives are smart and cost-effective investments for boosting clean energy competition. We applaud state leaders who have already taken an active role in shaping the nation’s carbon-free energy future. Local, state and federal policymakers should take their cue from these clean energy champions to lean across the aisle and leverage policies that appropriately value all carbon-free energy resources, from nuclear energy to renewables, for the part they play in decarbonizing the United States.
Carol M. Browner is the former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and a member of the Nuclear Matters Advocacy Council.
Former U.S. Congressman Tom Graves, a Georgia Republican, served as the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and is a Nuclear Matters Advocacy Council member.
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