Despite the recent disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, the nuclear industry still enjoys plenty of support back home, with legislators in both houses of Congress insisting that U.S. power plants are safe.
But how much of that support is based on hard facts and how much on financial influence?
The nuclear industry as a whole has spent over $46 million on lobbying from 1998 through 2010, according to the Sunlight Foundation. Roughly $18 million of that has come from the industry's leading trade group, the Nuclear Energy Institute, which, in addition to lobbying the people who write the laws on energy, has given them money, employed their former and future staffers, and honored them with leadership awards.
"Because the [nuclear] industry has been so stagnant for so long...that creates a limited amount of knowledge in this particular field," said Allison Fisher of Public Citizen, a non-profit that opposes nuclear energy. "It's dwindling, and it creates even more opportunity for revolving door issues."
Members of Congress argued Monday afternoon for an amendment that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases, a key priority for the agency under administrator Lisa P. Jackson.
At a markup hearing for the Energy and Commerce Committee, Republican members said repealing the EPA's power to regulate greenhouse gases would bolster the economy. What they didn't mention was that the policy would also benefit the energy and natural resources sector, which makes up more than $3 million, or about 15 percent, of the collective contributions received by the 31 Republicans on the committee last year.
"This bill says 'stop' to an EPA attempting to impose policies we cannot afford that will destroy jobs we cannot afford to lose," said Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan, who proposed the bill.
House Rep. Steve Pearce rode a wave of national resentment and money from oil and gas companies to regain an office he vacated in 2008.
Now he's back, and he brought with him a former Washington insider and lobbyist who sought to roll back environmental legislation well before it was the hot new thing to do.
The now high-profile billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, are not only major funders of conservative causes and candidates but also exert significant influence over media outlets and public opinion generators.
In June of 2010, the Koch brothers, who together own the second largest privately held company in America, held a conference in Aspen to plot strategy for the November 2010 elections. The list of attendees was leaked, revealing some interesting ties the Koch brothers have to the mainstream media.
The Sierra Club, the oldest and largest grassroots environmental group in the United States, has launched a social media campaign targeting Koch Industries, the second largest privately held company in the nation according to a 2010 Forbes ranking.
In an effort to increase public awareness of what it alleges are environmental transgressions by the industrial giant, the organization has called on its 1.4 million members to take to social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook to express their sentiments and "dislike" Koch Industries.
"The Kochs have a lot of money, which they are using to try and buy our government and undermine common sense protection of clean air and water," said Rachele Huennekens, a Grassroots Media Coordinator for the Sierra Club. "We can't match them in terms of resources, so we have to turn to the passion of our supporters."
The proposed tax made the ballot anyway, however, thanks to support from the rest of the City Council. If passed by voters in March, the tax, called Measure O, would levy $1.44 on every barrel of oil extracted within city limits.
Contrary to Hahn's prediction, it has actually been small oil companies, not the major corporations, that have banded together to fight the measure.