Time and again, nuclear power proves a unifying force in an otherwise bitterly divided political landscape.
The topic du jour is Senate Bill 76, which would lift a 1987 ban on building new nuclear plants. Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, introduced it Jan. 20, the Energy and Public Utilities Committee advanced it 15-1 Thursday. Recalling bipartisan support for 2021′s Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, the list of Rezin’s co-sponsors blurs party and geographical lines.
Republican backers include Terri Bryant, Murphysboro; Jill Tracy, Quincy; Seth Lewis, Bartlett; Jason Plummer, Edwardsville; Dale Fowler, Harrisburg; Win Stoller, Germantown Hills; Andrew Chesney, Freeport; Tom Bennett, Gibson City; and Sally Turner, Beason. Democrat sponsors are Mike Halpin, Rock Island, Laura Ellman, Lisle; Meg Loughran Cappel, Joliet; Bill Cunningham, Chicago; David Koehler, Peoria; Linda Holmes, Aurora; and Patrick Joyce, Kankakee.
State Rep. Mark Walker, D-Arlington Heights, introduced the similar HB 1079. It passed the Public Utilities Committee 18-3. Co-sponsors check every box: not just rural and urban, Democrat and Republican, but even the far reaches of the political ideology spectrum.
None of this cooperation is a guarantee of enactment, and there is opposition from inside and outside the General Assembly. But those realities shouldn’t dampen enthusiasm for evidence of elected officials being able to set aside significant differences to have legitimate discussions in the areas where they find commonality, an essential step for anything that might constitute progress.
Support for increased nuclear capability can come from multiple perspectives. Environmental activists like the carbon-free approach with output that dwarfs wind and solar generation. Pro-business advocates know companies like Exelon are financial giants. Organized labor can count the high-quality construction and operations jobs, including seasonal work as part of the outage and maintenance schedule. Local governments understand the property tax boon from a full-scale nuclear operation.
Even within those pools there are conflicts and contention – I’m personally no big fan of the ratepayer subsidies given to Commonwealth Edison over the years, even without the bribery implications – but neither consensus nor energy are ever truly “clean.”
Furthermore, just lifting the ban would mark only the first of many steps toward actual construction. The rest of the path could easily fracture the current coalition: Where would such plants be built? How much public money would factor into expansion? Would those be state dollars or local? What are the demonstrated benefits for utility customer costs? What are the adverse economic impacts on jobs tied to fossil fuel generation?
Lawmakers aren’t unprepared for those questions, but neither are answers essential to take a single step. Discussing these ideas in good faith – and in March daylight, not the wee hours of veto or lame duck session – all are positive indicators our state isn’t truly broken.
• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.