The White House is working hard to advance climate change legislation in Congress and hopes an announcement to jumpstart the nuclear power industry will appeal to Republican skeptics, a top adviser to President Barack Obama said.
Obama will announce on Tuesday an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to help Southern Co build two reactors, a move that the administration hopes will invigorate the nuclear power industry after nearly three decades in which no new plants have been built.
Carol Browner, Obama's top energy and climate adviser, said she was hopeful about progress on energy and climate legislation that is currently stalled in the U.S. Senate.
"I'm always optimistic, as is the president," Browner told Reuters Insider in an interview.
"We're working hard, and we're encouraged by the conversations that are going on. Obviously this is very important legislation and we're going to do everything we can to make it happen," she said.
Obama, a Democrat, is pushing for a law that would cap greenhouse gas emissions from industry and expand the use of renewable energy such as wind and solar.
Browner said that Republicans, many of whom oppose the climate bill, should take note of Obama's efforts to reach out on the issue of nuclear energy -- a top priority among key opposition lawmakers such as John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate in 2008.
"We also hope that Republicans and others, supporters of nuclear (power), will take note that the administration is prepared to provide leadership on issues that are important to solving our energy future and creating a different energy future," she said.
"There are issues that have long been important to many Republicans where we're prepared to take important steps."
EPA FIGHT, NUCLEAR JUMPSTART
One issue where the administration will not budge, however, is on the Environmental Protection Agency's right to regulate greenhouse gases, an option Obama is preserving in case Congress does not act.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is spearheading legislation that would prevent the EPA from having that regulatory power.
"We will work against that. We do not want to see that passed," Browner said.
Supporters of nuclear power argue more reactors will be needed for the United States to tackle global warming effectively because nuclear is a much cleaner energy source than coal-fired power plants, which spew greenhouse gases.
Nuclear power is controversial, however, because of its radioactive waste, which is now stored on site at reactor locations around the country.
The two reactors, which some experts estimate will cost $8.8 billion to build, could be in service in 2016 and 2017.
"What we're really doing is jumpstarting the nuclear industry in this country," Browner said, referring to the loan guarantees.
She declined to name a timeline for future announcements.
"There is more money available. Congress gave the Department of Energy about $18 billion in 2005.
The last administration didn't use it. We've been using it, and there are more loan guarantee applications in the queue, so we'll see what happens," she said.