Activists fight against Indian Point nuclear power plant's re-licensing

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 6/7/2013, 12:32 p.m.

Activists and coalitions fighting the existence of Indian Point Energy Center praised a recent report by Common Cause on Entergy's lobbying in Albany and Washington, D.C., to influence the plant's licensing.

"This detailed report from Common Cause describes how Entergy conducted a campaign of intense lobbying, public relations blitzes, advertising and targeted political contributions to shore up political support and distract the public from the real safety risks posed by the aging nuclear plant's operation," read a joint statement by Brooklyn for Peace, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, New York Public Interest Research Group, PHASE, Riverkeeper and Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.

The report by Common Cause, a nonprofit, nonpartisan citizen's lobbying organization, states that from 2005 to 2012, Entergy-the Louisiana-based company that owns Indian Point-and its associated coalitions spent just over $4 million on lobbying at the New York state level and made $573,225 in state and local campaign contributions. In that same period, Entergy spent a total of $31.4 million lobbying the federal government, retaining a total of 18 lobbying firms and donating roughly $4.17 million to candidates, PACS and committees.

In 2013 and 2015, Entergy's licenses to operate the plant's two reactors will expire. It currently needs approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for two more 20-year licenses.

"In an effort to secure Indian Point's future, Entergy has employed strategic political spending and a sophisticated public relations campaign coordinated by Burson Marsteller," read Common Cause's report. "One of Entergy's key strategies is a grassroots 'astroturfing' campaign designed to create the appearance of public support."

Astroturfing occurs when a corporation establishes a shill front-group organization that doesn't disclose their connection to their corporate sponsor and attempts to exert influence on the sponsor's behalf.

"In the case of Indian Point, Entergy has established two such organizations, NY AREA and SHARE," stated the report. "NY AREA creates a seemingly independent voice at the grasstops level, making policy arguments to the media and public and coordinating support among powerful business lobbies.

"SHARE is used by Entergy to cynically adopt the rhetoric of the environmental justice movement to target support among communities of color by framing nuclear energy as a 'green' alternative to polluting fossil fuel plants."

However, Jim Steets, communications director at Entergy, told the AmNews that the Common Cause report "skewed" and played with the numbers to make things look worse than they are, though he didn't deny lobbying. Instead, he said it's a necessary part of doing business in New York.

"I think one of the problems we have with the report is that they don't distinguish between lobbying and making contributions to elected officials, so their claims add up to a very big number," said Steets. "So I think they kind of skewed what Entergy spent on lobbying, and of course, they had numbers over a 10-year period, so it looks like we're doing a lot more than corporations our size or what other corporations who lobby do.