Sen. Obama (D-IL) can see to them both. Both corporate US presidential candidates have been upfront about their shared allegiance to so-called “clean coal” (one of many important points on which the two major party candidates agree) but the corporate press won’t tell you what that phrase really means. On 2008 October 7, Democracy Now! hosted a debate between Joe Lucas, a spokesperson for the “clean coal” campaign, and Michael Brune, executive director of Rainforest Action Network and author of the new book Coming Clean: Breaking America’s Addiction to Oil and Coal. (audio, high-quality audio, video, transcript).
In 2006 Obama took up the cause of Illinois residents who were angry with Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear power plant operator, for not having disclosed a leak at one of their nuclear plants in the state. Obama responded by quickly introducing a bill that would require nuclear facilities to immediately notify state and federal agencies of all leaks, large or small.
At first it seemed Obama was intent on making a change in the reporting protocol, even demonizing Exelon’s inaction in the press. But Obama could only go so far, as Exelon executives, including Chairman John W. Rowe who serves as a key lobbyist for the Nuclear Energy Lobby, have long been campaign backers, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars dating back to Obama’s days in the Illinois State Legislature.
Despite his initial push to advance the legislation, Obama’s office eventually rewrote the bill, producing a version that was palatable to Exelon and the rest of the nuclear industry. “Senator Obama’s staff was sending us copies of the bill to review, we could see it weakening with each successive draft,” said Joe Cosgrove, a park district director in Will County, Illinois, where the nuclear leaks had polluted local ground water. “The teeth were just taken out of it.”
Inevitably the bill died a slow death in the Senate. And like an experienced political operative, Obama came out of the battle as a martyr for both sides of the cause. His constituents back in Illinois thought he fought a good fight while industry insiders knew the Obama machine was worth investing in.
Obama’s campaign wallet, while rich with millions from small online donations, is also bulging from $227,000 in contributions given by employees of Exelon. Two of Obama’s largest campaign fundraisers include Frank M. Clark and John W. Rogers Jr., both top Exelon officials. Even Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, has done consulting work for the company.
During a Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works hearing in 2005, Obama, who serves on the committee, asserted that since Congress was debating the negative impact of CO2 emissions “on the global ecosystem, it is reasonable — and realistic — for nuclear power to remain on the table for consideration.” Shortly thereafter, Nuclear Notes, the industry’s top trade publication, praised the senator. “Back during his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2004, [Obama] said that he rejected both liberal and conservative labels in favor of ‘common sense solutions’. And when it comes to nuclear energy, it seems like the Senator is keeping an open mind.”
The rising star of the Democratic Party’s ties to the nuclear industry run deep indeed, but Obama may not only be loyal to Exelon and friends.
Exelon is also a major backer of Rep. Timothy V. Johnson (R-IL) campaign.