As a former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, I care deeply that progress continue to be made in the fight against climate change – and policymakers in states across the country are stepping up to do just that. I also know the resolve it requires to drive meaningful change in how we develop and use energy, which is the key factor in combatting climate change.
Ultimately, there is no silver bullet that will solve climate change. Rather, we have to pursue an array of promising solutions. To that end, I have always been a strong proponent of renewable sources of energy. It is increasingly clear that clean power sources such as wind and solar have an important role to play in our energy infrastructure. However, in our menu of clean energy options, nuclear energy and its carbon free output often is overlooked for its contributions in the fight against climate change.
I have always been a proud environmentalist, but I didn’t always support nuclear energy. In fact, up until a few years ago, I instinctively opposed it. But when I took a closer look, I had a realization. Our existing nuclear plants produce no carbon pollution while generating a constant and reliable supply of electricity. They produce 20 percent of this country’s energy and account for 60 percent of our carbon-free power. Plus, they help us avoid more than half a billion tons of carbon pollution each year.
I now believe that if we want to reduce carbon pollution that contributes to climate change, continue the expansion of clean energy sources, and avoid sliding backward on fossil fuel dependence – we can’t ignore the carbon-free contributions from nuclear energy. Our existing plants are a critical component of our clean energy future.
That’s why it’s important to focus on what has been accomplished in New York. Recent policy efforts to protect existing nuclear plants in the Empire State have been successful. Illinois has followed suit, taking similar steps to protect at-risk nuclear plants. Other states, including Ohio and Connecticut, are exploring options to preserve nuclear as an energy resource for their states as well.
New York’s Clean Energy Standard (CES), put forth by Governor Cuomo and the Public Service Commission, is the means by which the state’s nuclear plants have been preserved, thus enabling New Yorkers to get more of their energy from zero-emission sources and less from burning fossil fuels. This will prevent an additional 16 million tons of carbon emissions and 13,000 tons of harmful nitrogen oxide emissions each year. Over the course of the program, it will prevent over 180 million tons of carbon emissions and 150,000 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions. Undoubtedly, avoiding this pollution will have a significant impact on the health of children and families. This is especially compelling in light of a recent report from the American Lung Association, which ranked New York City 9th in terms of people at risk in the 25 most ozone-polluted cities in the U.S. The Clean Energy Standard (CES) exemplifies New York’s leadership in reducing dangerous pollution and encouraging cleaner energy sources.
Make no mistake, the dangers of climate change are all around, including the risk of severe storms that impact greater portions of the country with every passing year. Extreme weather costs lives and resources. For example, Superstorm Sandy in 2012 caused at least 53 deaths and $32 billion in damage in New York alone. Taking steps to ensure that sources of zero-carbon energy are maintained is essential for the health of our environment, our economy, and our people today, tomorrow and in the future.
As we work towards lowering pollution, let’s make sure we do so in a smart, efficient way, starting with preserving the nuclear plants that already exist. Let’s also look to New York as an example for figuring out how to manage the aggressive development of renewable energy sources like wind and solar. The reality is that we need to use every means possible to ensure a healthy environment for future generations.
Carol M. Browner, former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, is a member of Nuclear Matters, a national coalition to raise awareness about the value of nuclear power and the need to preserve existing nuclear energy plants.