- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

CLARIFICATION: This story on Energy Department loan guarantees for nuclear power and other energy industries did not fully identify the group Securing America’s Future Energy. The group supports expanded production of a range of domestic energy resources, including nuclear, oil and gas, and renewables.


Nuclear energy advocates quietly slipped an extra $50 billion for an Energy Department program into the Senate's budget blueprint last week, giving new life to a provision that had been rejected as “nuclear pork” in February's economic stimulus bill.

Without debate, explanation or a recorded vote, senators accepted an amendment by Sen. Michael D. Crapo, Idaho Republican, to boost the department's “low-carbon” energy loan construction guarantee program by $50 billion over five years. The program would make it easier for the nuclear power industry to secure financing for plants, including the more than two dozen that are now pending.

The amendment is another challenge by the Democrat-led Senate to President Obama, whose energy policies have been antagonistic toward nuclear power. Part of a cluster of 15 changes proposed Thursday night at the tail end of the budget debate, the provision was offered on the Senate floor by Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat.

The same proposal was stripped from the stimulus bill after a leading environmental group, Friends of the Earth, called it a bailout for the nuclear power industry. At the time, the group ran ads attacking the sponsorship by Sen. Robert F. Bennett, Utah Republican, and called on Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, to spurn the provision.

Friends of the Earth plans to lobby against the plan again. It says the measure's reappearance, even in its current nonbinding form in the Senate-passed budget resolution, is proof that its sponsors are determined to win the money this year.

“There is no question the nuclear industry is not giving up,” said Nick Berning, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth. The industry's backers in the Senate, he said, are “trying again and we're going to fight it.”

A spokesman for Mr. Crapo said the senator backed the amendment as a way to expand nuclear energy but noted that the Energy Department guarantee program, created in 2005, targets several so-called “clean energy” programs and does not favor nuclear power over other sources.

The program is designed to use taxpayer money only if utilities default on their loans. Still, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost of the plan will be roughly $500 million over five years. Large defaults could push the price tag much higher, even though borrowers would have to pay fees to the federal government to obtain the loan guarantees and thus defray taxpayer costs.

The loan guarantee amendment was stripped from the stimulus bill in February at the insistence of House leaders. Its re-emergence in the Senate, as a nonbinding rider to the budget, is seen as a first step to inclusion in legislation later this year.

Mr. Crapo is one of several senators eager to expand the loan program. Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, and Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican, included the measure in an energy proposal they announced last week.

Mr. Dorgan sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and chairs the appropriations subcommittee that oversees energy and water spending.

In the 2007-08 election cycle, electric utilities represented Mr. Dorgan's top contributor among industry sectors. Utility company political action committees and individuals associated with utility companies gave his campaign $181,326, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

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