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Responding to Climate Crisis – Act Locally
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by Frank Fox | 2007

The reality of global warming is beginning to sink in, thanks to the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), three of which have been released since February. The Washington Post has noted corporate interest in greener buildings, passage of the Clean Car Act, and the potential peril to Maryland wildlife should rapid climate change accelerate.


Indeed local and national media have created a drumbeat of dire consequences and calls for action. Some elected officials tout more nuclear-generated electricity as a way to reduce the carbon dioxide pollution that intensifies the greenhouse effect.


But every action to improve our environment carries tradeoffs. Maryland Public Interest Research Group released a report this February entitled “The High Cost of Nuclear Power: Why Maryland Can’t Afford a New Reactor.” (


However, on May 1, encouraged by growing demand for electricity and generous subsidies in the 2005 federal Energy Policy Act, Unistar Nuclear (jointly owned by Constellation Energy and AREVA) announced intention to build a new reactor. The location: the existing Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant near Lusby, MD.  The plan: a 1,600 MW nuclear reactor--larger than any existing nuclear reactor in the U.S. The proposed reactor would not be completed until 2012 at the earliest, and would be licensed to operate for 40 years. Whether Southern Maryland should host another large reactor is a proposal that must be analyzed carefully by all Marylanders.


While nuclear power does not pollute the air as does burning fossil fuels like oil and coal, the storage and management of radioactive spent-fuel for hundreds of years is a massive problem. The proposed national repository at Yucca Mountain, NV is not open and perhaps never will be, leaving us with tons of nuclear waste at Calvert Cliffs for the foreseeable future—perhaps a tempting terrorist target.


The cost of building a new nuclear reactor is staggering--$2.5 to 5 billion. Constellation Energy expects Maryland and federal taxpayers to heavily subsidize its venture. Calvert County has already offered $300 million in tax breaks to Constellation as an incentive for expected tax revenues and 450 permanent jobs.


What are the Alternatives?

But viable options to combat global warming do exist. Recently, the Sierra Club joined with the American Solar Energy Society to advocate that "an aggressive, yet achievable increase in the use of energy efficiency and renewables alone can achieve a 60 to 80 percent reduction in U.S. global warming emissions by 2050." That’s a do-able 2% cut each year for the next 40 years.


Transition away from dirty, fossil fuel-based energy can promote new jobs and manufacturing here in the United States while creating safe, clean energy. American ingenuity can also vastly expand conservation through development of fuel-efficient vehicles, energy-saving lighting, and innovative building techniques.


These methods would be a far cheaper means to cut down on carbon dioxide production than more reactors and radioactive waste. Indeed, Sierra magazine senior editor Paul Rauber found that "a dollar spent on energy efficiency would save seven times more carbon dioxide than a dollar spent on nuclear power."


This year both houses of the Maryland General Assembly considered the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2007 (SB 409/HB 890) which is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This bill would require reductions of global warming pollution to 1990 levels by the year 2020 and calls for a greater reliance on clean, renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. It would also provide companies flexibility in meeting the pollution-reduction goals through a “cap-and-trade” program. Neither SB 409 nor HB 890 was voted out of committee. We must encourage passage of this strong legislation next year to fight global warming, clean up the Chesapeake Bay, and protect our health.


On May 3rd, several Sierra Club activists joined with representatives of Maryland PIRG, Public Citizen, and the Maryland Greens, to form the Chesapeake Safe Energy Coalition (CSEC). The proposed mission statement: “To stop the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Maryland, educate the public about the hazards of nuclear energy, and promote clean, safe and affordable energy solutions.”


One initial goal of the CSEC is to encourage the MD General Assembly to pass not only the Global Warming Solutions Act, but also to enact a resolution similar to the California nuclear power moratorium law, which blocks construction of additional nuclear power reactors in the state until a viable national repository for radioactive spent fuel is functional.


How You Can Help
E-mail Governor O’Malley ( and ask him to oppose state subsidies to Constellation and its partners to help fund the new nuclear reactor. Please contact Dave O’Leary, Sierra Club MD Chapter Energy Chair ( or Frank Fox, SC So MD Chair ( to get further information and to join in this crucial initiative.

> 2007 Table of Contents


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