Thursday, March 17, 2011

Is the White House letting yet another crisis go to waste? Nuclear waste, in this instance?

A couple of characteristics have emerged as defining aspects of President Obama's leadership style to date. One is what Marshall Gans identified in How Obama lost his voice, and how he can get it back Los Angeles Times 11/03/2010.. The times in which Obama became President called for transformational leadership. But what the Obama Administration has provided has been transactional leadership: "The nation was ready for transformation, but the president gave us transaction. And, as is the case with leadership failures, much of the public's anger, disappointment and frustration has been turned on a leader who failed to lead."

The other is a related point about Obama's response to crises, from David Bromwich in The Embarrassments of Empire: Washington Wonders What to Say about Arab Freedom TomDispatch 03/10/2011:

... Obama visibly hates crisis. He is so averse to the very idea of instability that he seems unable to use a crisis to his advantage. Seldom, to judge by the evidence thus far, is he the first, second, or third person in the room to recognize that a state of crisis exists. The hesitation that looked like apathy and the hyper-managerial tone of his response to the BP oil spill offered a vivid illustration of this trait. [The democratic upheaval in ] Egypt brought out the same pattern. [my emphasis]
Now the very serious Fukushima crisis in Japan has Obama has a second major environmental moment of opportunity in a year, BP being the other.

And how is our transactional-minded President responding? Joan Walsh explains (The nuclear credibility gap Salon 03/16/2011):

... American leaders are putting their own credibility at risk by being so quick to reiterate the Obama administration's commitment to expanding nuclear power in the U.S. On Wednesday [Secretary of Energy Steven] Chu told Congress that officials planned to look at the "lessons" of the Japan disaster -- but he also told Rep. Joe Barton (R-Energy Industry) that the president continues to support expanding nuclear power in the U.S. at a cost to taxpayers of $36 billion, mainly in loan guarantees for new reactors, and to fund new small, modular reactors. To meet the president's clean energy goals, Chu said, "We believe we will have to have some fraction coming from nuclear." Without knowing the "lessons" of the unforeseen Japanese disaster, I'm not sure why any administration leader is making a full steam ahead commitment to nuclear expansion.

Chu's statements highlight the Democratic Party's dreary record in developing a compelling safe, sustainable energy vision in the two years since they took control of Congress and the White House (of course they lost the House in November). Democrats blew so many opportunities when they took control in January 2009, it's hard to say what was the most disappointing. Their response to the economic crisis was an inadequate, politically compromised stimulus bill that's left too many Americans unemployed today. They passed financial regulatory reform that still offers plenty of room for the kinds of abuses that led to the 2008 mess. They extended the Bush administration's tax cuts for the super-wealthy, even though a promise to let them lapse had been central to most Democratic leaders' campaigns, including President Obama's, thus failing to reverse the steady upward transfer of wealth that's deformed American society over the last 30 years. [my emphasis]
As I mentioned in my previous post, nuclear power isn't economically feasible for private industry. They have to rely on major subsidies from governments, even before a Fukushima disaster happens and the government has to spend more piles of cash to deal with the crisis. American and German taxpayers are joining those from Japan in dealing with the results of the epic private enterprise failure at Fukushima.

Joan may overstate her point just a bit in the following. But it's still an excellent point:

Our profound lack of seriousness when it comes to energy policy is at the heart of most of our problems. Our reliance on coal is destroying the planet; our reliance on foreign oil and gas leads us to coddle Middle Eastern tyrants and meddle where we have no national interests except energy, and right now it's threatening our fledgling economic recovery as gas prices continue to spiral. Meanwhile, even as the Japanese nuclear crisis worsens, a Democratic energy secretary is reconfirming his support for nuclear power. [my emphasis]
I suppose I should add what's beginning to sound like a ritual disclaimer: a McCain-Palin Administration would have had a worse record on environmental issues. With the Republican Party in full science-denial mode on environmental issues, any Republican Administration in 2013 will be worse. But on energy policy including offshore drilling and nuclear power, "not as horrible as the Republicans" just isn't nearly good enough.

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