The Eclectic One

…Because labels are a poor substitute for thinking

Energy for America: how one brave politician foretold truth

Posted by Bill Nance on September 5, 2008

You may not remember a U.S. Senator  named Paul Tsongas. My younger readers may have never heard of him. But Paul Tsongas, aside from being a fine and decent man and a great supporter of his community of Lowell Massachusetts, was also prescient on the issue of energy.

As early as the 1970s, Tsongas took a politically unpopular position in favor of nuclear power, along with conservation measures, better standards for energy efficient homes and placing energy taxes on BTUs derived from oil and dirty coal. He took a rationalist approach to the issue which he consistely followed until the end of his political career.

His stance cost him politically. At the same time he was advocating more research and new development of nuclear power, the blatantly false propaganda piece The China Syndrome was scaring the bejeebers out of an ill-informed electorate. The so-called environmentalists did everything they could to make sure the U.S. dependence on foreign oil and the resulting pollution problems would continue for nearly three decades longer than necessary.

At the same time, the Three-Mile Island accident, in an incredibly unlikely series of events came to national attention and further terrified the American public. It is rarely mentioned that this disaster, in which everyone talks about how bad things could have gone, was unlikely to recur. Unlikely to the point of impossibility. In fact, it did NOT result in any disaster. As was testified to in congress, the actual leak of radiation from the plant was less than the amount one gets from a single chest x-ray.

Paul Tsongas was not deterred. He continued to push for a comprehensive answer to America’s energy problems, including, but not restricted, to more nuclear power plants.

In the 1992 Democratic primaries, I remember Tsongas making one of the most honest statements I’ve ever heard from a politician running for office. To paraphrase: “We have three options: oil, coal or nuclear. They all have their downsides, so it’s a matter of pick your poison.”

Much of what Tsongas advocated is now being repeated by both Presidential Candidates in this year’s campaign.

You got it right Senator Tsongas. I knew it then and I still believe it to be true. There IS no silver bullet to the energy issue. The issue is one which is complicated and has many components. Today, as when you first talked about the issue, America faces hard choices and real challenges. One can only hope that the winner in 2008 will be as practical and prescient as you were.


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