Whitman: Meeting State Emissions Goals Difficult Without Indian Point Nuclear Plant

City & State
By Michael Gareth Johnson
April 20, 2016

Last summer, President Barack Obama introduced his Clean Power Plan with a goal of cutting carbon emissions by 32 percent (below 2005 levels) by 2030. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed an even more ambitious plan of 50 percent renewable levels by 2030. But that goal appears difficult to reach if Cuomo continues to push for a shutdown of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, according to former New Jersey Gov. and EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman.

“Indian Point provides 25 percent of the power for New York City and Westchester,” Whitman said. “Nuclear as a whole in this state is 25-30 percent of the power here, but 61 percent of the clean power. And there is really no way to replace that. And Gov. Cuomo’s goals are far more aggressive … I don’t see how he can meet the CPP targets without Indian Point without bringing a whole lot more fossil fuel online. The renewables are terrific, but they are not up to scale yet. And given the dates for the Clean Power Plan … the renewables are not going to be able to make that up.”

Whitman is currently the co-chair of Clean and Safe Energy, a non-partisan advocacy group for nuclear power as part of the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She said she was optimistic about the recent efforts to fight climate change, in particular what is happening within the private sector.

“You see it also with what is happening with businesses and the pressure that their shareholders, on the publicly traded ones, are putting on for ‘what are you doing, what is your carbon footprint, how is your water usage,’” Whitman said.  “And the companies that are just going out on their own and saying, ‘we need to do this.’ People are now becoming aware that this is a problem with which we have to deal, we can do it in a way that doesn’t hurt our economy.”

But American support for nuclear power appears to be on the decline, according to a recent poll by Gallup. The organization has been asking voters about nuclear power since 1994, and for the first time ever more than 50 percent of Americans in 2016 said they opposed nuclear power. Whitman says she doesn’t feel public opinion has shifted against the energy source, but that people just have increased concerns about nuclear weapons and are conflating the two.

“There was another poll put out at the same time that had the reverse and it was how the questions were asked. When you ask [about] nuclear from the perspective of security, people mix up nuclear power and nuclear weapons,” she said.

The former Republican governor of New Jersey also weighed in on the presidential primary race. Whitman is a supporter of Ohio Gov. John Kasich and will be attending the convention in Cleveland as one of his delegates if he wins enough support in New Jersey. Whitman has been a vocal critic of the increasing extremism of both parties since authoring a book on the subject in 2005. She says the increasing divide between the parties is not surprising to her.

“This is exactly what I said was going to happen. Republicans were moving so far to the right that it was hard to find the middle ground, and to Democrats I said then, watch out gang, that is going to happen to you. And now it is with Bernie Sanders, and Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren. They are moving the party to the left. The majority of Americans are in the center, we know that from every study, every poll that’s been done. And they are feeling more and more disfranchised. More frustrated.”