The Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee yesterday unveiled its energy and water spending bill, which includes an egregious tax on utilities for uranium enrichment services they purchased from now-retired government facilities. Congress has already levied this tax twice and is trying for a third.
What Congress politely calls a fee is in fact a tax. Utilities that purchased uranium from the government from 1969 through 1992 were charged an additional fee to help pay for the decontamination and decommissioning of the Department of Energy’s old uranium enrichment facilities in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee used for national defense and commercial services. Congress retroactively charged this tax again in the Energy Policy Act of 1992, amassing more than $2.6 billion from the utilities. Of course, the costs were ultimately passed on to their customers.
Taking a cue from President Obama’s previous budget proposals, the Senate’s energy and water spending bill, as it stands now, would establish a one-year renewal of the tax to extract $200 million from utilities and their customers. Like the President, some in Congress seem to think that the provision of commercial services from these government-owned facilities somehow results in an endless private-sector liability for cleanup costs. It ignores the fact that these facilities were built and owned by the federal government to meet critical national security requirements, not to meet commercial needs.
Indeed, these facilities have no use as commercial entities, which is why the Ohio and Tennessee facilities are already shut down and the Kentucky one is preparing to close. The private sector is fully capable of providing commercial enrichment services far more efficiently than the government ever could. There is already one enrichment plant on line in New Mexico, with planning underway for additional facilities. And just as owners of each of these plants must be responsible for decommissioning, so must the U.S. government be for its old plants.
Charging nuclear energy consumers a fee for something they have already paid for twice is patently unfair. And portraying outstanding cleanup costs as the responsibility of the nuclear industry is disingenuous.
When it comes to charging America’s electricity consumers for a government mess, the third time is not a charm.