Biden environmental justice panel says no to nuclear

May 21, 2021, 11:59AMNuclear News

The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) would appear to be not a fan of nuclear energy. In a May 13 report issued to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, WHEJAC lists “The procurement of nuclear power” under the heading “Examples of the Types of Projects That Will Not Benefit a Community.” (Other projects listed include fossil fuel procurement, carbon capture and storage, and cap and trade.) The 90-page report does not provide an explanation for the opposition.

What’s WHEJAC? The advisory group was established in January through a climate-related executive order (Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad) to increase the federal government’s efforts to address environmental injustice. The panel members were named on March 29 and include cochairs Richard Moore, cofounder and co-coordinator of the Los Jardines Institute, and Peggy Shepard, cofounder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice. In a statement on the WHEJAC membership announcement, Vice President Harris said, “This historic White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council will ensure that our administration’s work is informed by the insights, expertise, and lived experience of environmental justice leaders from across the nation.”

Calm down: While WHEJAC’s advice on nuclear procurement might inform, it stands little chance of being followed, given the support for nuclear stated elsewhere by the Biden administration. For instance, according to a fact sheet for the proposed American Jobs Plan, the White House will seek funding for the development of advanced reactors and for an energy efficiency and clean electricity standard aimed at “incentivizing more efficient use of existing infrastructure and continuing to leverage the carbon pollution–free energy provided by existing sources like nuclear and hydropower.”

Further, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm has expressed an openness to federal subsidies for economically challenged nuclear power plants, and just this week, Gina McCarthy, President Biden’s climate advisor and the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, at a virtual event hosted by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy said that “existing nuclear, as long as it’s environmentally sound and it’s permitted, is going to be absolutely essential.”

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