by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
A bill repealing the controversial ban on nuclear power plant construction in Minnesota cleared a House committee Tuesday, Jan. 11.
Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, saw her bill clear the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a 10-6 vote.
“We can’t wait for the federal government,” said Peppin, speaking after the hearing about the issue of nuclear waste storage. “We have to push the issue here.”
Peppin explained the legislation was not an attempt to bait Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton into a veto — Dayton indicated during the gubernatorial campaign the ban should stay in place.
Worried about kids’ energy future
She’s pursuing the bill because she’s worried about her children’s energy future, Peppin explained.
Both supporters and opponents gave voice during the committee hearing.
Bride Seifert, an energy policy specialist with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, argued the focus of the bill was not to immediately build a nuclear power plant but have all energy options open.
But some Democratic lawmakers and bill opponents countered by arguing that the ban wasn’t muffling debate or exploration at all.
Utilities simply wanted the ban lifted so that they could foist the cost of siting a nuclear power plant onto rate consumers, it was argued.
But labor officials backed Peppin’s legislation.
Harry Melander, of the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council, said about 30 percent of organization’s 50,000 members are currently unemployed.
A representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who also spoke in favor of lifting the ban, gave about the same unemployment rate among that union’s members.
Marshall Cohen, of the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute, called nuclear power plants safe, reliable, efficient — a “powerful economic engine.”
About 20 percent of America’s energy is generated through nuclear power, he said.
As long as Minnesota retains its moratorium, no utility would seriously explore possibly siting a new plant in Minnesota. The state currently has nuclear power facilities at Monticello and at Prairie Island.
But Steve Morse, executive director for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, a group representing 80-plus organizations and some 450,000 people, argued that pursuit of responsible, clean energy is undermined by Peppin’s bill.
There are some 34 dry casks of nuclear waste in Minnesota, and “no immediate plan to deal with that waste,” he said.
Beyond this, polling shows that Minnesotans like keeping the ban in place, Morse explained.
An Izaak Walton League representative also argued against the legislation.
Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, argued that Peppin’s legislation sent exactly the wrong message in terms of economic development in the state — opponents argued the renewable energy offered an immediate, growing and safe energy direction.
Another Democrat on the committee spoke out against the bill.
“While proponents of the repeal laud it as a job creator, passing this bill would be a big step backward in continuing the growth of home-grown clean-energy jobs,” said Rep. Kate Knuth, DFL-New Brighton, in a statement.
While expressing concern over the waste storage issue, Peppin is optimistic that the federal government would ultimately come up with a waste storage solution.
She backs renewable energy, Peppin explained, but nuclear power can provide the constant, ongoing power to back up alternative energy during lulls.
Peppin’s bill now advances to the House Commerce Committee.
The Senate had yet to hear a similar bill.