Political Week in Review: Meltdown

A weekly update on environmental policy happenings from Ryan Werder, Political Director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (Twitter: @rjwerder)

The earthquake in Japan was so massive, it literally shifted the entire globe’s rotational axis. Its impact on the global energy debate may be just as seismic due to the now-leaking nuclear reactors it damaged. Of course, for now, the devastation of so many lives and cities is the immediate and necessary concern as our thoughts remain with the families of Japan.

(At the end of this PWIR you will find a link to donate to help the victims; please consider a small contribution toward the enormous rebuilding that is needed now).

In this week’s Political Week in Review: A meltdown in nuclear policy debates at the federal level and the potential impact of the Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) legislation here in Michigan.

Tragedy in Japan…

Cover up as much as possible,” was the warning given to evacuees from potentially irradiated areas near two nuclear plants in Japan. Citizens in areas surrounding two other plants in that calamity-stricken nation may shortly be hearing similar advice, if they aren’t following it already.

Very briefly, a recap of the events that shifted the very surface of the earth – and the attention of all her inhabitants – to Japan: At 2:46pm on Friday, Tokyo time, a 8.8 magnitude earthquake, the largest in Japan’s long history, hit the island nation. The quake unleashed a tsunami wave that crested above the island and reached up to six miles inland. As the dual disasters demolished buildings and lives, the twinned catastrophe hammered nuclear plants just inland and knocked out the generators that cooled the radioactive cores of the plants. Since then, cracked fuel was detected, multiple explosions have blown apart plants’ buildings, evacuations of nearby towns are underway, and further radiation poisoning and plant explosions are expected.

… Debate in America

Until this weekend, a resurgence in the American investment in nuclear power seemed a pretty safe bet. President Obama explicitly supports it, Michigan’s own Fred Upton who chairs the House Energy and Commerce committee hardly goes a day without mentioning it, and the positive glow of bipartisanship around the issue was as steady as a fuel rod at the Fermi plant.

Now, though, policymakers are reconsidering their positions or, at least, being more cautious. The reactions over the weekend ranged from scrapping the idea of new plants, to a moratorium, to simply ensuring greater safety.

I am going to place a bet of my own though; much like the bizarro logic that ultimately led a handful of firebrands to use the BP oil spill in the gulf to somehow call for more deep-sea drilling, I give it a week or so before someone also calls for the hasty development of nuclear plants. When that happens, and it will almost surely be accompanied by calls for reducing “overly-burdensome regulation”, we must remember that waiting for catastrophes to happen is the worst possible way to create policy. (See also: Fracking spills and irradiated water sources in Pennsylvania, coal mine explosions in West Virginia, and burst oil pipelines… in Marshall, Michigan).

If this teaches us anything, it is that we must proactively create strong and reasonable safeguards. Everything we do in life carries some degree of risk — and few things more so than how we generate energy — but it is the risks we avoid that define us, as well. As we pray for the safety of the Japanese citizens sifting through apocalyptic scenes and wreckage, let us reflect on how we prepare for the same kinds of capricious tragedies that can easily find our shores, too.

The Emergency Financial Manager Emergency

If you’ve ever told yourself, “Boy, if I ran this town, I’d sure know how to fix things up here!” you’re in luck, because now you can! With two days of training you – yes, lucky citizen, you! – can run your very own financially distressed Michigan city. If, of course, you can get Governor Snyder to appoint you.

As more and more Michigan towns, cities, and counties approach insolvency – a number not helped by cuts in revenue sharing, incidentally – the House and Senate are close to passing Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) legislation. The result of this will be the vesting of immense power into the hands of a single, hopefully-qualified, individual whose job it will be to set the city back on stable financial footing. The outstanding and unanswered questions, though, are: “What do they cut?”, “How do they decide?”, and “How are they held accountable?”

EFMs could slash recycling programs, cut park funding, privatize sanitation systems and fundamentally alter municipal environmental policy. As we clearly see, elections have consequences; but how do we deal with the consequences of an unelected emergency financial manager?

Citizens from across the state will be gathering at the Capitol in Lansing on Wednesday to speak out against this legislation.

Donate to the Japan Relief Effort

In light of disasters in Japan, I hope you will consider making a gift to the Red Cross through this secure link: Please give today. Thank you.

Until Next Week,

Ryan Werder, Political Director

P.S. Don’t wait for the PWIR in your inbox each week to keep up on important environmental political news. Find us on both Facebook and Twitter for a steady stream of fresh blog postings and other interesting news throughout the week.

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