Editorial: Alexander’s advocacy framing energy debate

KnoxNews.com analyzes how Sen. Lamar Alexandar is framing the energy message for the Republican Party.

Posted June 7, 2009

By KnoxNews.com

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is emerging as the spokesman for the
Republican Party's message on energy – and he is thinking big on the
subject.

Alexander late last month said he will call on the federal
government to permit the construction of 100 nuclear power plants over
the next 20 years. The project presents a tremendous challenge, but the
Tennessee Republican believes the nation is up to the task. Alexander's
advocacy certainly should gear the nation to dealing with the energy
issues facing it.

In politics, Alexander's request is defining the difference between
the GOP's energy goals and those of the Democratic Party and President
Barack Obama. The president and the Democrats, Alexander believes,
place too much emphasis on renewable energy sources, such as wind and
solar power, while giving only lip service to nuclear power.

Nuclear power is the only course right now to provide energy
independence, good jobs and clean energy, he said. No doubt with an eye
to former vice president Al Gore's award-winning "An Inconvenient
Truth" about global climate change, Alexander said, "Climate change may
be the inconvenient problem, but nuclear power is the inconvenient
answer."

Alexander has not made a secret of his skepticism of wind and solar
power. Earlier this month, he suggested to Interior Secretary Ken
Salazar that developers of these "enormous renewable energy projects"
post a bond to remove them if they go unused "so that 20 years from now
we don't have to come up with 'abandoned windmill' legislation."

His support of nuclear power also takes a page from Arizona Sen.
John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. McCain called for building 45
new nuclear reactors in the U.S. by 2030, with a long-term goal of 100,
doubling the current number of U.S. reactors. Alexander's plan is more
ambitious, but he noted that two dozen applications already are pending
before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and could be on board by 2016
or 2018.

This month, Senate Republicans are to begin a series of hearings on
specific issues concerning nuclear power plants: loan financing to
assist in construction, safely recycling used nuclear fuel, and
ensuring enough skilled workers are available to build and operate the
new plants.

Alexander is not a recent convert to nuclear energy. With his
Maryville home in view of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,
Alexander has been a strong advocate of clean air and clean energy. As
a member of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, he
recently pushed for legislation that would impose stiffer controls on
sulfur, nitrogen and mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. A
year ago, he proposed a Manhattan Project equivalent to develop energy
independence.

His emphasis on nuclear power frames his party's role in the debate
over the nation's energy future. And it does not necessarily have to be
nuclear power versus renewables. There should be a meeting of the minds
on the topic, something bipartisan that Congress for too many years has
avoided but cannot continue to do without putting many years of
progress and the nation's reputation in jeopardy.

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