Support for nuclear persists but will the Japanese crisis instead kill negotiations over a clean energy standard?

Amidst the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan, the Obama Administration and key Congressional leaders continue to express their support for nuclear energy. Energy Secretary Steven Chu testified this week that the Administration opposes a halt in licensing for nuclear plants, and he also reiterated support for the White House's budget request of $36 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear plants. At a National Energy Resources Organization luncheon, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the Ranking Member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, stated that it is "too premature to suggest the nuclear renaissance is dead." Other key Congressional leaders, including House Energy and Natural Resources Chair Fred Upton (R-MI) and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), have issued statements over the past several days signaling their continuing support for nuclear energy. These statements suggest that the political support on Capitol Hill is unlikely to erode for nuclear. That being said, opposition among environmentalists to nuclear expansion will undoubtedly increase over the coming weeks and months. Such opposition poses significant political hurdles for any chance that the Senate could pass legislation establishing a clean energy standard (CES). This proposal also faces political challenges due to concerns regarding the standard's potential effect of electricity rates and ideological opposition among conservatives to anything resembling a federal mandate. Support among even moderate Senate Republicans for a CES remains questionable with key Republicans, such as Murkowski and Senator Richard Lugar (IN), declining thus far to support President Obama's proposal. Environmental groups were already less than thrilled by President Obama's inclusion of nuclear, along with clean coal, as part of eligible resources in a CES, and the Japan crisis would seem to confirm to them the danger of promoting nuclear energy. In her remarks yesterday, Senator Murkowski stated that it is hard to see a CES moving that does not include nuclear. Senator Murkowski's comments likely reflect what will be necessary to get a least several Republicans signed on. Without environmentalists onboard, it is difficult, however, to see how a CES gains support among Senate Democrats necessary to pass.

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