Fresh Start for Fresh Air

The first term of Mr. Bush’s presidency may be regarded as the worst environmental setback in the modern history of this nation. Back home in Westchester, a densely populated suburb of New York, I live within five miles of the largest nuclear power plant in the state, Indian Point. The plant is located in Buchanan, New York. According to the most recent Indian Point safety handbook, I live in the “peak fatality” zone. With Indian Point’s troubling history in my mind, it is truly unbearable to think, “What if?” The first “Indian Point” began functioning in 1963 using revolutionary new nuclear science. In the 1970s, the nuclear facility was ordered shut down for a period of time because it lacked an emergency cooling system. Throughout the 90s, it had a series of scares, consisting of leakages and mechanical failures. After the 9/11 attacks, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission acknowledged that the Indian Point power plants could not have sustained explosions such as the ones cause by those strikes. The plants at Indian Point One and Two have had many safety problems. In April of 2000, the National Regulatory Commission gave Indian Point Two the worst safety rating among all United States nuclear power plants. According to an environmental organization fighting for the closing of Indian Point, even without unexpected leakages, the plant still releases a low amount of radioactive chemicals. Furthermore, another concern is the absence of a “No Fly Zone” around the Hudson River and the plants. How can there be a “No Fly Zone” at Disney Land, but not one over a dangerous nuclear plant? Throughout the 2003 blackout, Indian Point was extremely vulnerable to either a terrorist attack or mechanical failures. During the blackout, its systems were completely inaccessible. Any attack on the plant could have had disastrous effects for much of New York State. The emergency safety plans for Indian Point are also extremely flawed. In the event of an accident, they call for residents to go immediately to their respective “safety zones.” These “safety zones” are designated areas where people are to retreat. The reality of this plan is that it leads to chaotic and packed highways. More importantly, these “safety zones” are located close enough to the nuclear site so as still to keep people in harm’s way in the event of an accidental radioactive release. The Bush Administration has shattered the progressive Clinton environmental doctrine and eight years of environmental accomplishments. Listening to Mr. Bush declare that he is environmentally aware during the second presidential debate was astounding; his environmental record proves otherwise. In the past four years, Mr. Bush has been anything but a “steward of the land,” as he claimed he was. Significantly, the Bush Administration has made no effort to secure America’s nuclear plants. Mr. Bush has weakened the Clean Air Act and instead he proposed the “Clear Skies Act,” which would allow five times the amount of chemicals now permitted into the air. Finally, Mr. Bush opposed the effort to solve the world problem of global warming when he declined to join the Kyoto Treaty with our allies. Unlike Mr. Bush, the Democratic Presidential Nominee, Senator John Kerry, has voted consistently to protect our environment. The Sierra Club, the nation’s most prestigious environmental organization, has endorsed Mr. Kerry’s presidential bid. While in the United States Senate, Mr. Kerry has voted for legislation to increase fuel efficiency standards and voted for the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996. He also supports essential research to face the threat of global warming. No state or national referendum can decide the fate of the Indian Point nuclear plants, but Americans do have the power to change national environmental policies in Washington DC. The upcoming election is just as about protecting the world’s environment, as it is about foreign policy. The American people have the power to make the environment a national priority.