Dennis the Menace Takes on Obama Nuke Support

By Kennedy Maize

Washington, March 19, 2010 — The Obama administration’s decision to offer some $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to the Southern Company for a new, two-unit expansion at its Vogtle nuclear power station in Georgia is drawing fire from the Democratic left in Congress. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has announced that he will hold hearings in his House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee March 23 on the Obama administration policy.

The title of the Kucinich subcommittee hearing is “Nuclear Power’s Federal Loan Guarantees: The Next Billion Dollar Bailout?” In a press release, the domestic policy subcommittee, which Kucinich chairs, said, “The purpose of the hearing is to evaluate the economic advisability in increasing the amount of loan guarantees for construction of nuclear power plants and to determine whether the issuance of those loan guarantees are  likely to lead to a large bailout of the nuclear power industry.”

Kucinich drew recent attention as the first of the liberal Democratic opponents of the Obama administration health care bill in the House of Representatives to announce that he would hold his nose and vote for the bill on final passage. He originally opposed the legislation as not going far enough to provide a government-sponsored health insurance plan to complete with private insurance plans.

Kucinich, 62, represents a blue-collar Cleveland district and is one of the most liberal House members. He has a long record of opposition to nuclear power, stemming from his tumultuous tenure as mayor of Cleveland from 1977 to 1979.

During his Cleveland mayoral years, he was the youngest major city mayor in U.S. history and known as “Dennis the Menace” after the cartoon figure. He won a nasty battle with Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co., an investor-owned utility, trying to take over Cleveland’s municipally-owned utility. At the time, the IOU was insisting that its investments in nuclear power plants would result in much lower electric rates than the muni could offer.

The claim of the investor-owned utility proved hollow, as the nuclear plants came in far over budget and off schedule. Kucinich’s refusal to sell the city electric utility led private interests to force the city into bankruptcy in 1979, and to the election of George Voinovich, now a retiring Republican senator from Ohio, to replace Kucinich as mayor.

The long battle with the investor-owned utilities in northern Ohio left a lasting anti-nuclear taste in Kucinich’s political mouth. He’s long been a champion of greater oversight of nuclear power plants. By most accounts, Kucinich is the farthest left of any member of the U.S. House. But his longevity —  meaning that his constituents in Cleveland and its western suburbs approve of his views, including quixotic runs for the Democratic presidential nomination — has given him a solid leadership position in the House Democratic caucus.

The Kucinich subcommittee hearings, and his agreement to support Obama’s health care plan in the House, suggest that he will be influential in attempting to stop the administration’s plans to expand nuclear plant loan guarantees to $54 billion. Said one nuclear industry analyst, “There’s no way Congress is going to approve this kind of money for new nuclear plants, and the White House will allow Kucinich to claim credit for killing the money. That’s a payoff for his support on health care.”