Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pennsylvania, Budget Cuts, Nuclear Energy & a State Energy Executive?

While Wisconsin didn't have a budget deficit until Governor Scott Walker created one, Pennsylvania did.  However, as in the case of Wisconsin,  Pennsylvania's newly-elected Republican Governor wants to preserve tax cuts for corporations and balance the state budget by making deep cuts to programs that aid those who need help the most.

As Tami Luhby reported last week for CNN:
"The state is facing a budget gap of more than $4 billion, and its new governor is keeping his promise not to raise taxes to close it. Instead, he is looking for concessions from public employees and for cuts from a wide array of agencies. Also, some 1,500 positions would disappear in the budget that cuts overall spending by 3%.
The governor is leaning hard on education -- both K-12 and college level. Together, these suck up 38% of the state budget.
Corbett is asking teachers to freeze their salaries for a year, saying it would save $400 million, and he wants school districts to be allowed to furlough employees during tough budget times.
But he still plans to cut $550 million from basic education funding. He is also looking to reduce state mandates and promote school choice. And he wants to allow voters to rule on property tax hikes school districts may propose to make up for state funding cuts.
The state university system would see its state funding slashed $271 million, while Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln universities would lose half of their funding. 
The governor also said he will be looking for salary roll-backs and freezes from the state's 62,000 employees, as well as having them pay more for health care. And he wants to start discussions on fixing the pension system, which could mean higher contributions or less generous benefits."

Until last week, those cuts may have been seen as the most troubling items in the Governor's proposed budget.  But as Rachel Maddow pointed out on her March 11th broadcast, there is a not widely reported element in the Governor's plan that may have far greater and potentially dangerous consequences, his plan to appoint a state energy executive.

As the Pennsylvania Environment Digest reports: 

As part of his campaign platform, Gov.-elect Tom Corbett laid out a series of commitments on protecting the environment, developing Pennsylvania's energy resources, enhancing agriculture and promoting sportsmen's  issues.
 Tom Corbett’s energy plan has five core areas: 
-- Growing Our Energy Infrastructure;
-- Encouraging Renewable, Alternative; Clean Energy in Pennsylvania;
-- Cultivating Pennsylvania’s Coal Resources; and
-- Transitioning to Competitive Markets.
            Harnessing Pennsylvania’s energy potential to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and make energy affordable for all
Sounds great doesn't it.  Until you read a little further and find out what the Governor means by "Transitioning to Competitive Markets."  
"As Governor, Tom Corbett will issue an immediate Executive Order to designate a senior advisor within the Governor’s office to serve as the state Energy Executive, who will be charged with coordinating the overall state energy policy, utilizing expertise within the relevant agencies of state government."

As I mentioned, this was the topic of discussion on a recent broadcast of the Rachel Maddow Show.  On March 11th, Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica joined Rachel to discuss how the aforementioned provision in Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's budget could give authority over the state's environmental permitting process to an energy executive.  The proposal would give C. Alan Walker, the head of the Department of Community and Economic Development, the unprecedented authority to "expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted" - including coal, oil, gas and trucking.

( and nuclear power plants ?)

I'm sure that you see where I'm going with this.

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission study released less than a year ago ranked Exelon Nuclear's Limerick Generating Station, (a nuclear energy plant located in southeastern Pennsylvania, about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia in Montgomery County), as being the nation's nuclear plant that is at the third highest risk of being damaged by an earthquake.  The study also reveals that of the top 10 nuclear plants most at risk from earthquake damage, three are in Pennsylvania, more than any other state.

Limerick has two General Electric boiling water reactor (BWR) units, cooled by natural draft cooling towers similar to but slightly newer than the reactors in Fukushima, Japan.  Limerick has Mark II reactors instead of the Mark I's in Fukushima.  Limerick reactors 1 and 2 were licensed in 1984 and 1989, respectively. Nuclear energy plants in the United States are licensed to operate for 40 years which reflects the amortization period generally used by electric utility companies for large capital investments.  But 40 years in the world of nuclear physics may not be the same as 40 years on Wall Street. 

Are nuclear reactors meant to last 40 years?
Is it like comparing dog years to human years?

And what happens if a Governor gives a non-elected representative from the private sector the power to expedite nuclear power plant licenses ( for the sake of corporate profits) even if another government agency prohibits it?

Until these questions are answered, Governor Corbett's plan to appoint a State Energy Executive is deeply trooubling

The following is a video clip of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) speaking to Ed Schultz on licensing nuclear power plants. 

Good luck Rep. Kucinich and thank you for being a voice of reason.

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