Lindsey Graham: Coal and Nuclear are “Clean” Energy

You’ve heard of greenwashing, but maybe you should also be on the lookout for “cleanwashing.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the lead proponents of a climate bill, wants the Senate to include coal and nuclear power in a so-called “clean energy” mandate.

Graham is circulating draft legislation that would replace a provision in the current Senate climate bill requiring utilities to produce a certain amount of electricity from renewable sources—known as a renewable electricity standard, or RES. Graham’s proposed mandate instead involves ramping up the amount of electricity from “clean” sources over time—13 percent by 2012, 25 percent by 2025 and 50 percent by 2050. But the big question is what “clean” means. According to Graham’s draft language, new nuclear power and coal with carbon-capture technology would qualify, in addition to renewable sources like wind, solar, biomass and hydropower. This would be a boon to the nuclear industry, which has pushed hard to be included as part of any clean energy mandate.

Environmentalists have already slammed the RES in both the House and proposed Senate text as too weak. Including technologies that aren’t actually renewable would only undermine the RES further.

Graham has made it clear that he wants major incentives for nuclear power and offshore drilling in a climate and energy bill as part of the deal to cut carbon dioxide pollution. Graham’s clean energy mandate also calls for more government-backed loans for nuclear power, with place-holder language calling for funds “sufficient to build 60 additional nuclear reactors.” This would require an even greater expansion of a program that the Obama administration has already advocated tripling.

It’s not known whether Graham’s proposal will be included in the final legislation that Sens. John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Graham are working on in the hopes of gaining bipartisan support for a climate bill. But they’ve made it clear that there will be a lot of compromises on energy in order to bring reluctant senators on board. 



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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.