Jump-start job creation by focusing on how we produce, use and conserve energy

By Christine Todd Whitman and Juan C. Zapata
Austin American Statesman
July 12, 2010
This week, the nation’s leading Latino and other community leaders are meeting in San Antonio for the National Council of La Raza’s annual conference. The conference will provide special focus needed on economic challenges, especially those affecting Latino communities. The national unemployment rate among Latinos is 12.4 percent, higher than the national average of just under 10 percent.
 

One of the opportunities we have to kick-start job creation is by focusing on how we produce, use and conserve energy. America’s electricity demand is poised to rise 23 percent by 2030 and the need in Texas will be double that at 48 percent. Meeting that demand responsibly is going to require an investment in a diverse range of clean energy sources.

Of the clean energy technology options available now, none is better-suited than nuclear energy at supplying large amounts of electricity that does not pollute the air, together with creating thousands of badly needed jobs. That’s particularly the case in Texas, where two proposed reactors at NRG Energy’s South Texas Project in Matagorda County will put some 6,000 people to work building those power plants.

Nuclear energy facilities act as economic hubs in local communities by luring new businesses and increasing a tax base that provides good schools, libraries and other critical infrastructure. NRG estimates the two new reactors at South Texas Project will generate more than $15 billion in follow-on business activity, along with $600 million in local and state tax revenues.

And because nuclear energy is emissions-free when producing power, each additional plant prevents carbon emissions from fossil fuel plants that would otherwise fill the air. Texas’s four reactors prevented 29 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere last year – the equivalent or removing nearly 1 million passenger vehicles from the road. That’s a significant environmental benefit given that four Texas cities fall below Environmental Protection Agency standards for air quality and Austin teeters on the brink of falling below those standards.

Nuclear energy’s economic and environmental benefits have helped the Clean and Safe Energy (CASEnergy) Coalition, a group to which Rep. Zapata belongs and which I co-chair along with Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore, form a broad-based coalition of more than 2,400 members who support the industry’s expansion. That support is especially strong here in Texas, where CASEnergy members include local Latino leaders such as State Senator Leticia Van de Putte and Ramiro Cavazos, president and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Support is growing in Texas and across the country. A recent Gallup polled showed that 62 percent of Americans – an all-time high – favor the use of nuclear energy to produce electricity. This favorability is due, in part, to the industry’s excellent safety record in recent years. South Texas Project, for example, recently logged its 10 millionth labor hour without a significant worker injury or accident. This commitment to worker safety also extends to safe operation of the plant, which generated 22.4 million megawatt-hours of electricity in 2009—enough to power 2 million homes and more than any other dual-reactor power plant in the country.

President Obama has recognized the importance of nuclear power to the nation’s energy portfolio. In May, he asked Congress to approve $9 billion in additional loan guarantee authority so that proposed new reactors such as the two at South Texas Project could move forward quickly and put Americans back to work.

Consideration of nuclear energy in Congress has drawn bipartisan support in part because of the tremendous job creation potential of reinstating America as a leader in this industry. As President Obama said in April: “Make no mistake: whether it is nuclear energy, or solar or wind energy, if we fail to invest in these technologies today, we’ll be importing them tomorrow.” We should be taking a leadership role and creating jobs, not moving more American jobs offshore.

Of course, nuclear energy alone can’t meet all of our electricity needs. As Texas has discovered as the nation’s leader in wind power, America will have to develop a full suite of clean energy sources, including wind, solar and geothermal. Natural gas must continue to be a bridge fuel to this cleaner energy portfolio. We must conserve more energy as well.

CASEnergy members here in Texas and elsewhere are meeting with other stakeholders to find common ground on our energy future. Our coalition recently joined with leaders from the manufacturing, economic development and wind energy sectors to release a “Policy Roadmap for Clean Energy,” which makes the case for a diverse U.S. clean energy portfolio that places a premium on job creation.

One area on which we are keenly focused is investment in workforce training. New nuclear power plants have the potential to create as many as 70,000 jobs in the coming years, and we need to act now to ensure our workers are adequately trained to take those jobs.

Nothing lifts a community like good-paying, stable jobs and industries. Today, Texas has the opportunity to strengthen its communities, meet its growing electricity demand, and improve its air quality. Nuclear energy is poised to help deliver on these goals.

Whitman is a former administrator of the EPA and governor of New Jersey and co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy), a national grassroots coalition that promotes the economic and environmental benefits of nuclear energy as part of a green-energy economy. Zapata, a Florida state representative, serves as chairman of the NALEO Education Fund and Board of Hispanic Caucus Chairs (BHCC)and is a member of CASEnergy. To read more about the “Policy Roadmap for Clean Energy,” visit www.cleansafeenergy.org.