U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer called her news conference today in San Francisco to blast Republicans’ budget cuts, but she touched on Libya and nuclear safety, too.
Boxer, D-Calif., praised the Obama Administration for working through the United Nations Security Council – and at the behest of the Arab League – to act to halt Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s promised attacks on his own populace. The international community had an obligation to react to such a crisis, she said, though that reaction “should be limited in scope,” remain an international effort, and retain the Arab League’s support.
Asked whether the President overstepped his constitutional authority by committing U.S. military forces without Congress’ approval, Boxer replied that the Senate unanimously resolved to urge the U.N. Security Council to act in protection of Libya’s civilians, including establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone. “So I did vote for this, and this is what the President did.”
Bringing it to Congress might’ve meant people such as Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio – who said Obama’s action was unconstitutional and has pledged to try to block any funding for military activities in Libya – could’ve debated it for weeks, she said. Kucinich is eloquent and some might agree with him, she said, but “anyone who said he (Obama) should’ve waited don’t feel the sense of urgency that many of us felt” about imminent harm to innocent Libyans.
Boxer also spoke about the “very worrisome” aftermath of Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, particularly new reports that Tokyo’s drinking water might contain enough radioactive iodine to put infants at risk. It’s “a powerful wakeup call for our nation” to review our own nuclear safety, she said: The U.S. has 23 reactors of the same design as the damaged ones at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, as well as 54 plants built before 1980. And she noted the U.S. also has two nuclear power plants sited in areas with the highest degree of seismic risk – both located in California.
About 7.4 million people live within 50 miles of the San Onofre nuclear plant in northern San Diego County, she noted, while about 500,000 live within 50 miles of the Diablo Canyon plant in San Luis Obispo County. Significant new earthquake risks have been discovered since both plants were built.
She said she doesn’t believe PG&E, which operates Diablo Canyon, should be granted the permit extension it’s seeking until it has completed new seismic safety studies.
Boxer chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the nation’s nuclear industry through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The committee already has received a briefing from the NRC and other experts, and will hold a full hearing on nuclear safety next month, she said. She said her priorities are immediate reviews of U.S. reactors with the same design as the embattled Japanese reactors; U.S. reactors in seismically active areas; and storage of spent fuel rods. “This is serious business – I’m going to be all over this issue, and Senator (Dianne) Feinstein and I are working together.”
UPDATE @ 3:25 P.M.: Boxer’s stance on Libya is at odds with at that of least several Bay Area House members. Representatives Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, joined by Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., issued this statement yesterday:
“The decision for the United States to engage militarily in Libya is one that should have been debated and approved by Congress.
“We have serious concerns about whether or not an effective and thorough case for military intervention in Libya was made. Too many questions remain. What is our responsibility now? Do we own the situation in Libya and for how long? Where does this dramatic acceleration of military intervention end?
“There is a serious humanitarian crisis in Libya, and Gaddafi’s reckless, indiscriminate use of force on his own people in response to grassroots calls for change is unacceptable. But there are serious consequences for rushing to war with a limited understanding of the situation on the ground and no exit strategy or plan – we learned this lesson through two ill-advised wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“With the potential for protracted civil war in Libya, and similar circumstances of unrest and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Yemen, and elsewhere, we cannot afford to sidestep critical diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to rely solely upon the deployment of more guns, bombs, and troops. This represents a dangerous path toward perpetual U.S. military engagement around the world.
“The United States must immediately shift to end the bombing in Libya. Rest assured we will fight in Congress to ensure the United States does not become embroiled in yet another destabilizing military quagmire in Libya with no clear exit plan or diplomatic strategy for peace.”