Republicans mum on Japan disaster's effect on 'all of the above' energy policy

Since the 2008 campaign, Republicans have been promoting an “all of the above” energy policy under which the country would rely on a mix of oil, gas, coal, nuclear, solar, wind, and other sources to meet national energy needs.  The GOP had scored some points in recent days with the steep increase in gasoline prices; if the United States had pursued a more broad-based oil exploration program in the last decade as Republicans proposed, they argue, it would be producing more oil today.

In the last couple of days, however, it's the nuclear component of the “all of the above” strategy that has come into question.  What effect should the ongoing disaster in Japan, and the perilous situation at some of that country's nuclear plants in the wake of the earthquake/tsunami, have on the debate?  The answer from Republicans, at least right now, is: It's too early to say.

In the Senate, Republicans are deferring to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who on “Fox News Sunday” declined to discuss the Japanese catastrophe's effect on “all of the above.”  Asked whether he is having “second thoughts” about including nuclear power in the GOP energy plan, McConnell said, “What we ought to do right now is concentrate on trying to help our Japanese friends after this disaster…I don't think right after a major environmental catastrophe is a very good time to be making American domestic policy. I think we ought to just concentrate on helping the Japanese in any way that we can.”

Fox's Chris Wallace asked McConnell whether, in light of the Japanese disaster, Americans will look at nuclear power and say, “Not in my backyard.” McConnell called that “a fairly common reaction to catastrophes,” but in the end, he said, “We ought not to make American and domestic policy based upon an event that happened in Japan.”

On the House side, Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Fred Upton is putting together the GOP response to Japan.  Late Saturday, he released a statement saying he will “carefully continue to assess and examine” the situation in Japan, but he'll soon move beyond that to substantive discussion of the issue. “The head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is scheduled to testify before the Energy and Commerce Committee next week,” Upton says, “and we will use that opportunity to explore what is known in the early aftermath of the damage to Japanese nuclear facilities, as well as to reiterate our unwavering commitment to the safety of U.S. nuclear sites.”

The bottom line: For the moment, “all of the above” remains GOP policy.  Whether it will stay that way is not clear.

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