For months Democratic leaders in Congress have been embroiled in negotiations and strategic efforts to write and, ultimately, pass the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376), a sweeping package to deliver widely popular (and desperately needed) social programs, climate action, and infrastructure revitalization. In their efforts, Congress has also pursued the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R.3684), a supplementary package with pared-down infrastructure measures that has the support of both parties.
These bills hold great promise, especially the Build Back Better Act (BBBA). The BBBA is supposed to be a transformative investment to lift up American families, create jobs, and solve the climate crisis by transitioning the country to renewable energy and off of fossil fuels by 2035. But, several roadblocks are preventing the bill from living up to its promise.
First, the BBBA contains a massive subsidy for nuclear power plants: an extraordinarily wasteful and counterproductive program that will do nothing to reduce emissions, advance environmental justice, create jobs, or make communities more resilient against the ravages of climate disruption. It is labeled the “Zero-Emissions Nuclear Production Credit” (Nuclear PTC), Sect. 136108. The Nuclear PTC would funnel billions of dollars to corporations that own existing nuclear power plants, the vast majority of which will remain profitable without the subsidy. In recent revisions, the Nuclear PTC was extended to 6 years and utility-owned reactors were made eligible for the credit, increasing the cost of the Nuclear PTC to $35.3 billion. This subsidy comes in addition to $6 billion in Civil Nuclear Credits in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which would subsidize aging, unprofitable nuclear power plants.
Sen. Manchin’s Power Trip
The second roadblock is a certain senator from the state of West Virginia who has been obstinate is his refusal to back the Democrats’ Build Back Better agenda – Sen. Joe Manchin. Due to the razor-thin margins in the Senate and the need for all 50 Democratic Senators to vote in favor of Build Back Better for it to pass, Senator Manchin has exercised his vote as leverage to undermine and pare down the legislation, weakening the provisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand renewable energy. He has resisted increasing taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals that would fully fund the Build Back Better agenda. He rejected the $150 billion clean energy program to achieve net-zero emissions electricity by 2035. All the while, he has pushed to expand funding for nuclear power and other dirty energy sources.
In fact, as Bloomberg reported this week, Sen. Manchin has been raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions from the very corporations that have the most to lose from phasing out dirty energy. One of those companies is Exelon, the largest nuclear power company in the U.S., which gave Sen. Manchin $5,000 in June–the day before he and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) introduced the bill (S. 2291) on which the nuclear bailout is based. Sen. Manchin is also the chief Democratic senator who negotiated the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which includes $6 billion in Civil Nuclear Credits.
So, while Senator Manchin is busy blocking our best chance at climate justice and an equitable economy with one hand, with the other he is co-sponsoring the Nuclear PTC and is fighting to keep this bailout for corrupt nuclear corporations in the bill. The two largest beneficiaries of the subsidy would be Exelon ($13.5 billion) and Energy Harbor ($3.0 billion)–both of which are at the center of federal corruption cases over state-level nuclear subsidy bills enacted in Illinois and Ohio in 2016 and 2018. Sen. Manchin can’t be allowed to cut climate and economic justice and then push through tens of billions of dollars to subsidize dirty, old, and increasingly dangerous nuclear power plants.
Standing Up for a Just Transition to a Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Future
Members of Congress must stand up to short-sighted corporate interests and the corrupt players who would be bought off by the nuclear industry, rather than work for the American people who elected them. It’s time to cancel the Nuclear PTC in BBBA, once and for all. Nuclear power has severe environmental justice impacts, violating the commitments of the Biden Administration and Congressional leadership. For these very reasons, the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council included nuclear energy on a list of investments that do not benefit communities. Wasting the next decade subsidizing aging, increasingly uneconomical nuclear power plants will incentivize environmental racism and obstruct real solutions to the climate crisis.
There is no public policy justification or climate rationale for such an investment of Build Back Better Act dollars. The Nuclear PTC will not create a single new job. It will not deliver any investments to environmental justice communities while adding to the environmental health and justice burdens of Indigenous, Black, and Latina/o/x communities. And it will preclude the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs in renewables, efficiency, and zero-emissions solutions to modernize our electricity system.
To expend billions of dollars of the limited BBBA budget on a wasteful nuclear bailout would be a gross policy failure. The funding dedicated to the Nuclear PTC, if allocated to renewable energy, would be able to fund enough tax credits for wind and solar to replace more than half of existing nuclear generation by 2031, and create tens of thousands of new jobs in the process.