Diablo Canyon Closure Decision Missing Critical Elements
By Peter Miller
The historic proposal to retire and replace California's last remaining nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, was mostly rejected Thursday in a final decision unanimously adopted by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which removed critical elements protecting the climate, plant workers and surrounding communities. The commission voted to approve this decision, setting the wheels in motion to close the plant by 2025, but without these protections.
While disappointing, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) will continue to advocate forcefully to ensure that the CPUC authorizes increased investment in zero-carbon resources to replace the huge plant's electricity generation—including energy efficiency, wind and solar—and avoid any increase in carbon pollution. We also will explore alternative options to ensure that the urgent needs of the plant workers and surrounding communities are addressed.
Diablo Canyon is owned by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), one of the nation's largest combination natural gas and electric utilities, which serves 16 million people in northern and central California. The plant, located 250 miles south of San Francisco near San Luis Obispo, accounts for about 9 percent of California's in-state power generation, 6 percent of the state's total electricity mix, and about 20 percent of the electricity for the service territory of PG&E.
NRDC, Friends of the Earth and PG&E—together with local environment groups and labor unions—in June 2016 hammered out a landmark agreement last year to close Diablo Canyon by August 2025 and replace its output with lower-cost, emissions-free energy. The agreement also recommended significant transition support to communities and workers affected by the shutdown. NRDC estimated that PG&E customers will save at least $1 billion from the implementation of the agreement compared to keeping the facility's two reactors running. NRDC believes the Joint Proposal also is an inspiring model for other states and countries to follow when faced with the need to close aging and uneconomic nuclear plants.
However, a California administrative law judge who oversaw the proceeding and prepared a draft decision recommended that the commission largely disregard our groundbreaking proposal. In doing so, he dismissed the joint efforts of the multiple and diverse stakeholders represented in the proposal, and largely ignored testimony from the proposal's supporters submitted in numerous briefs and hearings over the past 14 months. The judge's recommendation was adopted by the commission Thursday with some modest changes.
Under Thursday's decision, PG&E can proceed with its plan to retire the two reactors near San Luis Obispo, 250 miles south of San Francisco. The CPUC said it would use a separate proceeding to determine how to replace the plant's output. While noting "it is the intent of the Commission to avoid any increase in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the closure of Diablo Canyon," the CPUC missed a golden opportunity to begin a transition to zero-carbon replacement in rejecting the proposed 53 percent increase in how much energy PG&E should help its customers save through energy efficiency programs, a prominent feature of the Joint Proposal.
The CPUC decision also:
- Makes no explicit provision for replacing any part of Diablo Canyon's output with zero-carbon resources; and
- Disallows more than half of the Joint Proposal's recommended transition support to plant workers and their communities (cutting $226 million out of a seven-year total of $448 million), which is crucial to ensuring the plant's safe and reliable operation.
Worker retention is a major concern for plant safety, as well as for the small communities who rely on the plant for tax revenue. The Joint Proposal included $448 million over seven years for worker retention, retraining and development programs, as well as community funds to maintain critical community services in the remaining years of operation. However, the commission instead authorized less than half that for workers, jeopardizing the ability for the plant to retain its skilled, cohesive workforce and refused to authorize any transition aid for essential services in the small, remote communities where they live.
Ensuring that the plant's nuclear power will be replaced with lower cost, pollution-free resources is also a critical point. A precipitous shutdown could prompt a shift toward more polluting sources of power, such as natural gas, which could derail California's climate goals. The final decision included a commitment to avoiding a spike in greenhouse-gas-free emissions, but failed to authorize even a modest initial investment in energy efficiency to start to replace the output of the huge plant. We will work to ensure the separate regulatory proceeding corrects those omissions.
With this decision, the CPUC failed to take a promising step for California electricity customers and climate. Instead, the commission punted on critical support needed to ensure an orderly transition and avoid a spike in carbon pollution.
Given the lack of action on replacement resources and the disregard for the needs of plant workers and host communities, it is possible the California Legislature will take action to address these issues. And NRDC will continue to advocate forcefully before the commission in support of increased investment in the clean energy options like energy efficiency, solar and wind, to offset the loss of generation from Diablo Canyon's retirement.
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
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