Nov. 28, 2001
Lawmakers Bow to Wishes of Nuclear Industry
House Approved Nuclear Industry Subsidy With Almost No Debate Allowed and no Recorded Vote
WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The House approval of a measure that heavily subsidizes the nuclear industry shows that lawmakers? allegiances lie with the nuclear industry, not consumers, Public Citizen said today. The House late Tuesday voted to reauthorize the Price-Anderson Act, which limits liability for nuclear operators in the event of a serious accident or terrorist attack and shifts much of the burden to taxpayers. Lawmakers passed the bill, H.R. 2983, by a voice vote despite opposition from a broad coalition of public interest and environmental groups.
“Democrats and Republicans alike capitulated to nuclear industry lobbyists in allowing this flawed legislation to pass,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “Apparently this House is more concerned with securing campaign contributions from the nuclear industry than protecting public health and safety.”
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that marked up H.R. 2983, received $131,590 from electric utilities in the last election cycle, making them his top campaign contributor. Electric utilities are also the top contributor to the committee?s top Democrat, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who received $109,679 leading up to the 2000 election.
The Price-Anderson Act, first enacted in 1957, establishes a taxpayer-backed insurance regime for nuclear power plants. It reduces the amount of insurance required for nuclear reactors, saving the industry billions of dollars in premiums. H.R. 2983 extends the Price-Anderson subsidy for another 15 years.
The House leadership put the bill on its suspension calendar late last week after many Capitol Hill staff members had left for the Thanksgiving holiday. The suspension calendar usually is reserved for non-controversial matters such as naming new post offices; debate is limited and amendments are prohibited. Many lawmakers expected Price-Anderson to be subject to a roll call vote to be held at night, but legislation opponents failed to call for such a vote, so many House members were absent when the act was considered.
“Price-Anderson raises too many critical issues to be treated as a formality,” Hauter said. “To force the measure through a restricted legislative process that doesn?t allow for full debate is an insult to the democratic process.”