Council ponies up more cash for nuclear lobbyingLobbying state lawmakers on nuclear issues remains a top priority, city officials say, even if it costs Red Wing some extra coin.
By: Jon Swedien, The Republican Eagle
Lobbying state lawmakers on nuclear issues remains a top priority, city officials say, even if it costs Red Wing some extra coin.
City Council on Monday approved spending an additional $15,000 to retain Madigan, Dahl & Harlan. Council members say the law firm will bolster efforts in St. Paul where they, and others, want to convince legislators to prepare for the possibility Minnesota -- not the federal government -- will ultimately have to clean up the state's industrial nuclear waste.
"The city of Red Wing's primary concern is the spent nuclear fuel will stay in town for an indefinite period of time," Finance Director Marshall Hallock said.
The Obama administration's recent pronouncements that it won't bury nuclear waste in a Nevada mountain, which had previously been slated as the nation's nuclear burial site, has intensified the fear that Prairie Island nuclear plant will become a permanent home to radioactive waste.
While council voted unanimously to retain the law firm, which has expertise in nuclear issues, council members expressed discomfort in having to spend more money because the city's coffers are pinched.
"This bothers me because I don't see an end," Council member Lisa Bayley said. Council previously approved a $110,000 contract with lobbyists Flaherty & Hood. That contract was later reduced to $75,000 after Monticello, Minn., which also houses a nuclear power plant, also hired the firm.
Council members said these efforts might take more than one year to bear fruit. Yet, while ambivalent to approve additional spending, some council members sounded their pleasure with how their lobbying efforts have gone so far.
"I'm pleased that we're this far along this year," Bayley said.
@Sub heads:Two bills
@Normal1: Currently Red Wing is supporting two bills that city officials feel address their concerns on nuclear storage.
One is a well-publicized bill, authored by Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights.
This proposed law would divert funds Xcel Energy now pays to the federal government. Half that money would be set aside for nuclear cleanup and the other half would fund a state commission overseeing nuclear waste management.
And some of the diverted money would go to help host communities, like Red Wing, pay for public safety needs.
While the council supports that bill, Red Wing's local lawmakers -- Rep. Tim Kelly and Sen. Steve Murphy, a former Xcel employee -- don't.
Murphy, among other criticisms, has said this proposal could result in the federal government suing Minnesota. And an Xcel official said the company could lose the roughly $600 million it has already paid the federal government.
But there's another bill that addresses long-term storage and it has some support from Kelly and Murphy.
This bill would task the Public Utilities Commission with estimating the cost of storing nuclear waste in Minnesota for 200 years.
It'd also require the PUC estimate the costs a city like Red Wing would bear in ensuring its public safety departments are prepared to deal with possible emergencies at a decommissioned nuclear plant.
Xcel Energy would have to account for these costs in its decommissioning fund. The company is required by federal law to set aside money that will go toward paying the cost of decommissioning its nuclear power plants.
Kelly said he prefers this bill because it doesn't add a layer of bureaucracy to the state and it puts more pressure on the federal government to take action.
"It's more focused on the actual issue of long-term storage," he said.
Kelly said he's tentatively supporting the bill, noting its language could change.
Pam Gorman, Xcel Energy's community relations manager in Red Wing, released the following statement with regard to Xcel's stance on the bill:
"We share the community's goal of ensuring that the decommissioning fund covers the costs to manage used fuel as long as it remains at the plant site and provides for the community's needs.
"The city and members of the public already can participate in the decommissioning planning process without legislation."
Xcel is in the process of relicensing the plant 20 years. Prairie Island nuclear plant's federal licenses expire in 2013 and 2014.
Madigan, Dahl & Harlan represented Red Wing last summer during the PUC's hearings on Xcel's bid to expand dry cask storage at Prairie Island.