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Carter's nuclear pledge at Venice undercut by Democratic platform

While President Carter was committing the United States to one thing in Venice, his Democratic Party Platform Committee was busy undercutting him at home.

"So we noticed," said a high West German official here, "to our great dismay."

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The point at issue is nuclear power, but the lesson it paints for the future of the Venice summit commitments is large.

Cutting the use of oil, as leaders of the seven summit powers resolved to do, is risky, because it requires greater use of other fuels many people dislike or even fear.

First among these is nuclear power, violently opposed by many citizens of the summit nations, especially the United States and West Germany.

Yet Mr. Carter and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, as part of the overall Venice pledge to save the equivalent of 15 to 20 million barrels of oil daily by 1990, committed their countries to "enhanced use" of nuclear power over the medium term.

Not so the Democratic Party Platform Committee, which -- shortly after the Venice declaration -- pledged Mr. Carter's party to "retire nuclear power plants in an orderly manner."

This was the best language White House officials could salvage, after beating back a resolution that would have called for a "moratorium on all licensing of new nuclear plants."

The President himself, speaking to reporters in Venice, stressed "massive coal deposits" in the United States that -- together with synthetics from shale, plus natural gas and domestic oil -- could minimize US use of nuclear power.

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A Carter aide insited that "coal is beautiful" and can be mined and burned in much greater quantities without damaging the environment.

Even if he is right, the same cannot be said of extracting oil from shale and oil and gas from coal, which -- given present technologies -- cannot be done on a commercial scale and still meet existing environmental protection laws, according to many experts.

Doubling the use of coal over the next decade, as summit leaders pledged, implies greatly expanded coal exports from the United States to Europe and Japan.

This, in turn, said a senior Carter aide, would require among other things deepening of the Mississippi River estuary and massive dredging of East Coast ports, such as Hampton Roads, Va.

No doubt other summit nations face their own variety of capital, environmental, and supply constraints in striving to achieve the ambitious Venice energy goals.

So the question arises: Can the targets be reached?

"I think we can make it," said Manfred Lahnstein, state secretary of the West German Finance Ministry and a top summit aide to Chancellor Schmidt.

"The key thing is not to lock ourselves in one or two-year goals, as [last year's] Tokyo summit unwisely did. What is needed is modification of capital investment, and this takes six to 10 years. There is no sense in setting quantitative goals in less than five years."

"The real question," said another high German official, "is not the realism of the Venice goals, but whether the political will exists to reach these objectives.

"This," he continued, "depends on our joint ability to link arms and demonstrate to our peoples that there just is no alternative [to reducing the use of oil]."

Even under the best of circumstances switching from petroleum to other fuels will cost an enormous amount of money. Indeed, the Venice communique signed by Mr. Carter calls for "maximum reliance . . . on the price mechanism" to discourage the use of oil.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, appealing to "consumers who can barely pay their bills for heat and fuel," demands just the opposite -- reimposition of price controls on domestic oil.

So, for President Carter, political will may be hard to muster when his own party platform repudiates part of what he signed in Venice.

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