“40 years ago, nuclear energy was actually regarded as something of a savior for our environmental dilemmas because it didn’t pollute. And this was well before we were even thinking about global warming or climate change.”
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tn.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, delivered a speech at the International V.M. Goldschmidt Conference here in Knoxville. Sen. Alexander serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and is the chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority Congressional Caucus. His remarks as prepared follow:
“Hanging in my office in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., is a photograph taken forty years ago of President Nixon meeting with Republican congressional leaders in the White House Cabinet Room. Sitting over at the side are two young White House aides, Pat Buchanan and Lamar Alexander, both of us barely 30 years old. I was invited to the meeting because my job then was to help the president with congressional relations. I can distinctly remember the conversation that day.
“President Nixon was attempting to persuade Republican leaders that a new environmental movement was coming fast. The members of Congress did not sense this as clearly as the president did. The president turned out to have better antennae than the congressmen did. Our big and complex country, like a big freight train, moves slowly when starting in a new direction, but once going, it moves rapidly and the momentum is hard to stop. This certainly was true of the modern environmental movement during the early 1970s.
“We Americans suddenly were falling all over ourselves looking for ways to limit our impact on the planet, looking for cleaner and greener ways of living. 1970 was the year of the first Earth Day. Congress enacted Clean Air and Clean Water laws and created the Environmental Protection Agency. Recycling became as faddish as the hula hoop. All of this made sense to me because growing up in East Tennessee I was raised to appreciate the beauty of our natural environment and the importance of clean water and air. That is why I chaired the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors during the 1980s, and why I spend so much time as a United States Senator working on stronger clean air laws, on stopping mountaintop mining, and on introducing legislation to expand wilderness within the Cherokee National Forest. For me, it has been a lifelong moral imperative to treasure natural resources at the same time we use them responsibly to make our lives more productive.
“That is why in a speech in Oak Ridge in May of 2009, I called for America to build 100 new nuclear plants during the next twenty years. Nuclear power produces 70 percent of our pollution-free, carbon-free electricity today. It is the most useful and reliable source of green electricity today because of its tremendous energy density and the small amount of waste that it produces. And because we are harnessing the heat and energy of the earth itself through the power of the atom, nuclear power is also natural.
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Photo: U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander