OUR CRUCIAL SPRING CAMPAIGN IS NOW UNDERWAY
Please donate now to keep the mission and independent journalism of Common Dreams strong.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
Tom Clements, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-834-3084
Nick Berning, email@example.com, 202-222-0748
In a case that could have far-reaching implications for efforts to build new nuclear reactors in the U.S., the South Carolina Supreme Court has set a hearing date on a challenge against a new reactor project planned in the state.
The March 4 hearing at the state Supreme Court in Columbia will consider the appeal by the environmental organization Friends of the Earth of a decision by the South Carolina Public Service Commission allowing South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) to proceed with a costly two-reactor nuclear project and to begin collecting rates to pay for it.
SCE&G's reactor project is widely considered to be on the Department of Energy's short list of four projects being considered for a federally subsidized "loan guarantee." Friends of the Earth and a host of other public interest groups believe that loan guarantees constitute unwarranted giveaways to an industry which should be forced to compete in the free market and not depend on taxpayer bailouts.
"The nuclear project as proposed by SCE&G is flawed on many levels and as the state Public Service Commission allowed it to go forward, we were obligated to watch out for the public interest and appeal to the Supreme Court," said Tom Clements, Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator with Friends of the Earth in Columbia. "The South Carolina law that forces the state's citizens to pay up front for nuclear reactors, even if construction is abandoned, is unjust in the extreme and must be overturned by the court. We believe that the court will balance the public interest with the interests of the company and the energy future of the state and direct SCE&G to conduct a more thorough costs analysis and review alternatives to the project, beginning with an aggressive conservation and efficiency program."
Friends of the Earth claims in its appeal that the state's Public Service Commission erred in its February 2009 decision allowing the project to go forward by not adequately requiring SCE&G to present energy alternatives and by not fully considering the cost of the project. The appeal also challenges aspects of a South Carolina law, the Baseload Review Act, that forces rate payers to pay for the nuclear project far in advance of its operation and also in the event the project is cancelled mid-stream. Friends of the Earth claims that this "construction work in progress" law is unconstitutional as it forces rate payers to pay for something they may never receive.
Friends of the Earth has claimed that the Public Service Commission gave SCE&G a "blank check" for the project's costs as SCE&G did not provide the Public Service Commission with a cost of electricity coming for the reactors nor guarantee a final cost for the project. SCE&G claimed in the hearing on the reactor project that the two reactors will cost $11.5 billion, but the company had previously filed a $9.8 billion cost with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Georgia Power, which also aims to build two AP1000 reactors, has said those reactors are likely to reach a cost of $14 billion. On February 2, Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Greg Jaczko stated in an Arizona Republic article that "the best estimate for a new reactor's price tag is about $10 billion."
The two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors that SCE&G intends to build have yet to be certified or receive a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and are now undergoing redesign of the "shield building" that covers the reactor containment. Due to this serious matter, no established review schedule exists for the design, meaning more delays in the licensing decision or a rejection of the design by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
In addition to SCE&G, the state's Office of Regulatory Staff, which Friends of the Earth alleges has abrogated its responsibility to look out for the interest of rate payers, is also a target of the appeal.
A second challenge has also been mounted against the Public Service Commission decision, by the S.C. Energy Users Committee, an association of large electricity users in the state. No hearing date for that appeal has been set and the court declined to combine the two appeals.
Tom Clements will be available for comment before and after the hearing and Bob Guild, Friends of the Earth's attorney and a well-known environmental lawyer in South Carolina, will be available after the hearing has concluded.
Friends of the Earth fights for a more healthy and just world. Together we speak truth to power and expose those who endanger the health of people and the planet for corporate profit. We organize to build long-term political power and campaign to change the rules of our economic and political systems that create injustice and destroy nature.(202) 783-7400
"I didn't come to Congress to hurt people," said Rep. Jim McGovern. "And when I listen to my Republican friends, what is clear to me is that we don't share the same values."
Rep. Jim McGovern, a leading anti-hunger lawmaker in the House, expressed anger Tuesday that the debt ceiling legislation negotiated by Republicans and the Biden administration targets food benefits for older adults while doing nothing to raise taxes on the wealthy or rein in military spending.
During a House Rules Committee hearing on the bill, McGovern (D-Mass.)—the panel's top Democrat—slammed his Republican colleagues for claiming to care about the deficit but refusing to look to the Department of Defense, a paragon of wasteful spending and fraud, for savings. The White House and Republicans ultimately agreed to increase military spending for the coming fiscal year.
Meanwhile, Republicans rejected White House proposals to close tax loopholes exploited by the rich.
Instead, McGovern said Tuesday, the GOP insists Congress has to "cut funding that helps the most vulnerable in this country."
"Give me a goddamn break," he added.
McGovern voiced particular alarm over the bill's expansion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work requirements to include adults between the ages of 50 and 54, a Republican demand. Analysts and campaigners say the change, which would sunset in 2030, could put hundreds of thousands of older adults at risk of losing food aid.
White House officials and President Joe Biden himself have defended the new requirements by pointing to the legislation's proposed expansion of SNAP benefits for veterans, kids leaving foster care, and people experiencing housing insecurity.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Biden brushed aside progressives' warnings that the bill could cause some people to go hungry, calling such concerns "ridiculous."
McGovern pushed back during Tuesday's hearing, saying that "improving benefits for some does not justify putting 700,000 older adults at risk of losing critical, lifesaving food benefits."
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) published an assessment late Tuesday that concludes the debt ceiling bill, titled the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, would lead to roughly 78,000 people gaining SNAP benefits "in an average month, on net (an increase of about 0.2% in the total number of people receiving SNAP benefits)."
But observers cautioned that the CBO's estimate hinges on ensuring that vulnerable people, particularly those who are homeless, are aware they are exempt from SNAP work requirements and able to navigate the program's bureaucracy.
"This is HIGHLY theoretical," The American Prospect's David Dayen wrote of the CBO analysis. "There's no funding to identify eligible people without benefits or to help them apply or find the necessary documentation. I obviously haven't seen the model but it seems like wishful thinking to me."
"How are we exactly a) informing homeless individuals that 1 of the 2 work requirements for SNAP [has] been lifted, b) helping them collect and submit the documents that prove they meet the income test, and so on?" Dayen asked.
After a nearly six-hour hearing, the Republican-controlled House Rules Committee voted Tuesday to send the debt ceiling legislation to the full House for a vote, which could come as soon as Wednesday evening.
McGovern and every other Democrat on the panel voted no.
Ahead of Tuesday's committee vote, McGovern called the latest standoff over the debt ceiling an "all-time high in recklessness and stupidity" and said Republicans "manufactured" a "crisis that risks the full faith and credit of the United States."
"Republicans are unfit to govern," said McGovern, one of the lawmakers who—to no avail—urged Biden to use his 14th Amendment authority to unilaterally avert a debt ceiling catastrophe.
"This bill could have been a lot more awful than it is," McGovern added. "I didn't come to Congress to hurt people. And when I listen to my Republican friends, what is clear to me is that we don't share the same values."
"We're taking the streets to shut it down and send the message to Sen. Schumer that he must STOP the #DirtyDeal being included in the debt ceiling bill!"
As progressives excoriated President Joe Biden's debt ceiling deal with Republican lawmakers over "polluter giveaways" including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, activists rallied outside Sen. Chuck Schumer's Brooklyn home on Tuesday evening with a message for the majority leader: "Stop the dirty pipeline deal, or we shut down your block."
The protesters—led by Climate Defiance and backed by Food & Water Watch, Climate Defenders, Climate Families NYC, New York Communities for Change (NYCC), and others—chanted messages including "Schumer, stop the dirty deal" as they marched in the Park Slope neighborhood where he lives.
"Schumer is on the cusp of making a deal with the devil, stripping down our bedrock environmental laws and review processes for the Sisyphean task of trying to appease fossil fuel oligarch [Senate Energy Committee Chair] Joe Manchin," the rally's organizers said in a statement published on Action Network. "This is not ok!"
\u201cNew Yorkers taking the street outside @SenSchumer\u2019s Brooklyn apartment now. Risking arrest to demand he stop the dirty deal giveaway to the oil and gas companies.\n\nNo MVP! No Dirty Deal!\u201d— Alex Beauchamp (@Alex Beauchamp) 1685484102
The group Indivisible tweeted: "We're taking the streets to shut it down and send the message to Sen. Schumer that he must STOP the #DirtyDeal being included in the debt ceiling bill! It's time to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure and that means no more pipelines. Chuck, stop appeasing Manchin!"
While OpenSecrets.org lists Manchin (D-W.Va.) as the biggest congressional recipient of fossil fuel campaign donations during the 2021-22 election cycle, The New Republicreported last September that Schumer (D-N.Y.) took more donations than Manchin from NextEra Capital Holdings, one of the companies behind the $6.6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).
\u201cOne of the companies behind the pipeline, NextEra Energy,\u00a0is a major donor\u00a0to Mr. Schumer & Mr. Manchin. \n\nIn 2022, NextEra\u2019s employees and political action committees gave $302,600 to Mr. Schumer and $60,350 to Mr. Manchin, according to OpenSecrets data.\n\nhttps://t.co/upVyuiCNzU\u201d— OpenSecrets.org (@OpenSecrets.org) 1685488230
The debt ceiling bill states that "Congress hereby finds and declares that the timely completion of construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is required in the national interest."
Manchin, whose family is heavily invested in fossil fuels, is a staunch booster of the MVP, as is the state's other U.S. senator, Republican Shelley Moore Capito. Manchin has been trying—so far without success—to gain congressional approval of the project since early last year. Last December, he tried to attach what was also being described as a "zombie deal" to the $858 billion military spending package. It was Manchin's third time floating the measure.
The organizers of Tuesday's protest called the MVP an "ecocidal project" that "would transport 2 billion cubic feet of fracked gas every single day."
"It would have the same climate impact as multiple dozens of brand-new coal plants," the groups warned. "We cannot allow Chuck Schumer to sell out our future to Joe Manchin. And we won't."
The MVP's inclusion in the bill to avoid a first-ever U.S. default does not mean the pipeline will ultimately be part of the package. On Tuesday, six House Democrats from Virginia—Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Jennifer McClellan, Bobby Scott, Abigail Spanberger, and Jennifer Wexton—introduced an amendment that would strip MVP approval from the legislation.
"A moratorium on dangerous and underregulated carbon dioxide pipelines is essential to protect communities and the environment," said one campaigner.
More than 150 climate and other advocacy groups on Tuesday urged U.S. President Joe Biden to block authorization of all new carbon dioxide pipelines—which experts say increase emissions while posing serious safety risks due largely to underregulation—until adequate safety rules are enacted.
"We call on you to issue an executive order putting a moratorium on all federal permits for CO2 pipelines and related infrastructure, and urging states to do the same until the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) finalizes robust new safety regulations that protect communities and the environment," the coalition wrote in a letter to the president.
"PHMSA is planning to propose revised regulations in the fall of 2024, in response to a rupture of a pipeline transporting CO2 in Satartia, Mississippi that hospitalized residents and posed significant challenges for first responders who were ill-equipped to respond to such an emergency," the signers wrote. "However, we are facing a massive build-out of CO2 pipelines now; in the absence of updated federal regulations, our communities face the risk of much larger and more devastating ruptures."
\u201cWe were proud to join over 150 other groups last week on a letter calling for a moratorium on CO2 pipelines. \n\nVia @foodandwater: https://t.co/e3Xs7LB6sf\u201d— Imagine Water Works (@Imagine Water Works) 1685475572
CO2 pipelines are used for carbon capture and storage (CCS), an unproven technology in terms of scalability that coalition member Food & Water Watch has called a "false climate solution" and a "lifeline for the fossil fuel industry."
Experts say that, in addition to emitting harmful chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene, CCS actually contributes to a net increase in emissions.
Carbon dioxide pipelines are also prone to ductile fractures from which massive amounts of CO2—a heavier-than-air asphyxiant that can travel long distances at lethal concentrations—can escape. The 2020 Satartia rupture sent nearly 50 people to the hospital and resulted in the evacuation of hundreds of local residents.
\u201cEver wondered why we say that carbon capture is a fossil fuel industry scam, even though it sounds like a good thing? Now you can learn more about why carbon capture is another lie from the fossil fuel industry!\n\nExplore our new info hub on our website. \u2b07\ufe0f https://t.co/4toQ2CxxSm\u201d— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch) 1685386904
Despite this, the Biden administration's Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month announced new fossil fuel power plant rules that rely heavily on CCS and include plans to build thousands of miles of new CO2 pipelines. Additionally, the bipartisan infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act both include billions of dollars for CCS expansion.
"We need President Biden to listen to the growing chorus of voices who are demanding a stop to dirty energy interests' rush to build dangerous and unsafe pipelines to transport CO2," Food & Water Watch policy director Jim Walsh said in a statement. "This industry pipe dream will quickly become a nightmare for communities in the path of these profit-driven schemes that can explode and send plumes of suffocating CO2 for miles."
\u201cCarbon capture is a fossil fuel industry scam that isn\u2019t proven to work at scale \u2013 period. That\u2019s why we need to tell Congress to invest in renewables instead. Will you join us? https://t.co/pdjL7jbwfK\nhttps://t.co/QnyjaS18t6\u201d— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch) 1684796470
"Pipelines to transport CO2 are the key component of the carbon capture scam that uses lies and misinformation to convince the public and policymakers that these dangerous and expensive projects are something other than a money-maker for dirty energy producers," Walsh added.
Maggie Coulter, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, said that "the Biden administration put the cart before the horse by creating huge subsidies for carbon capture and storage before comprehensive regulations are in place."
"A moratorium on dangerous and underregulated carbon dioxide pipelines is essential to protect communities and the environment," Coulter added.