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Economic risks imperil climate bill

In the Senate, opponents focus on pump prices and tax consequences.

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On Tuesday, the Department of Energy (DOE) submitted a long-awaited license application to build a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada – a move that supporters say is essential to revive the nuclear-power industry.

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Nuclear-power advocates hope to use the global-warming bill as a vehicle for reviving the industry. They make the case that without a significant increase in nuclear power, it will be impossible to lower carbon emissions without a blow to US living standards.

"It's time we begin the nuclear renaissance in America and Yucca Mountain is a vital step," said Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina, in a statement after the announcement. "If Congress is serious about reducing carbon emission, nonemitting nuclear energy must play an even larger role than it does today."

Many Democrats are wary of risking the support of some environmental groups over nuclear power. Majority leader Reid, a longtime opponent of a nuclear-waste dump in his state, charged that DOE filed the application with only about 35 percent of the work done to justify it.

"Yucca Mountain is as close to being dead as any piece of legislation could be," he said on Tuesday. Republicans say they are holding out for a wide-ranging debate over the global-warming bill, including many amendments. Democratic leaders worry that some amendments, including those over nuclear power, could undermine support for the bill.

Commenting on the diverse coalition of lawmakers now supporting the bill, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California said: "They need a certain amount to stay on it. I need a certain amount not to get off it. We're looking for that sweet spot."

Asked to clarify her position in nuclear power, Senator Boxer said on Wednesday, "Already in the bill there's a whole funding stream for these low-carbon, noncarbon energy sources and that's sufficient. I don't think you need more."
As chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, Boxer is leading the floor debate on the global warming bill, known as the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008 after cosponsors Sens.
Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut and John Warner (R) of Virginia.
"Some of my colleagues want to add more to it, and I have said to them that the only thing that would get me extremely upset and disturbed is if we did something that made nuclear power less safe, because my fears have to do with the safety of the waste."
Senator Warner and others have yet to release the text of proposed nuclear amendments. Boxer says that she would have no problem with additional funding to train workers in the nuclear power industry, to make plants safer or to have parts manufactured in America. "That kind of thing isn't a deal breaker for me," she says. But "there may be other amendments to 'streamline,' which I believe means [reducing] the time needed to make sure these plants are safe." That, she says, she would have to oppose.

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