April 3, 2019

Honorable Governor Thomas Westerman Wolf

Pennsylvania Office of the Governor

508 Main Capitol Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120

cc: Honorable Senate President John Fetterman

Honorable House Speaker Michael Coyne Turzai

Dear Governor Wolf,

We are writing as climate scientists, environmentalists, and concerned citizens to urge your support for the continued operation of nuclear plants and to warn against misinformation being spread by an anti-nuclear organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).[1]

We applaud your recognition of the need for strong action to mitigate climate change, and urge you to support legislation allowing for the continued operation of nuclear plants. Pennsylvania nuclear plants provide 93 percent of the state’s zero-emissions electricity, and nearly 16,000 jobs. Research suggests that the loss of nuclear plants would cost the state $4.6 billion in the form of higher energy costs, lost economic output, and the health costs of worsening air pollution.[2]

Saving Pennsylvania’s nuclear plants is urgent. If action is not taken by May, Three Mile Island nuclear plant will close later this year, emissions will rise, and hundreds if not thousands of good jobs will be lost.

The good news is that legislation exists that would treat nuclear fairly by including it in the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards. This legislation is similar to sound and effective legislation enacted by lawmakers in Illinois, New Jersey, and Connecticut, which prevented the closure of nuclear plants.

Pennsylvania cannot make up for the loss of nuclear plants with solar and wind. The state’s nuclear plants generated 20 times more electricity than the state’s solar and wind combined in 2018. Moreover, the intermittent nature of solar and wind mean that they cannot replace baseload nuclear plants. As such, when nuclear plants close, they are replaced overwhelmingly by fossil fuels, not renewables.

NRDC is an outlier in its advocacy against support for the continued operation of nuclear plants. Even longtime foes of nuclear, like The Environmental Defense Fund and the Union of Concerned Scientists, have endorsed subsidies for the continued operation of nuclear plants. UCS specifically called on policymakers in Pennsylvania to “value all types of low-carbon electricity generation” including nuclear plants.[3]

NRDC’s suggestion that “solar and wind energy paired with battery storage” could inexpensively replace the zero-emissions electricity coming from Pennsylvania nuclear plants is well outside the mainstream of current research and policy analysis.

Instead of the more modest proposal for the state legislature, NRDC is demanding an unrealistically sweeping package that would include “a cap on carbon pollution from the power sector…. stronger renewables targets in the AEPS, stronger efficiency standards, and strategic public- and private-sector investments.” Such a package simply cannot be completed by May.

NRDC’s criticism of the modest support being proposed for nuclear is hypocritical. NRDC has for decades lobbied for far larger subsidies for solar and wind. In 2016, the latest year for which data is available, renewables received $10.7 billion more in federal subsidies than did nuclear, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That amount is 55 times greater than what nuclear received, measured on a per unit of energy basis.[4]

Finally, if natural gas replaces both coal and nuclear in Pennsylvania, the state will become dangerously dependent on a single, notoriously price-volatile fuel. While natural gas prices are low today, they will not remain low forever. Letting nuclear plants close today would deprive Pennsylvania’s citizens a valuable force for keeping electricity prices low long into the future.

We thank you for your commitment to action on behalf of the climate and environment, and urge your support for sound legislation to maintain the operation of nuclear power plants.


Dr. James Hansen, Climate Scientist, Earth Institute, Columbia University

Dr. Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Dr. Michelle Marvier, Professor, Environmental Studies and Sciences, Santa Clara University

Dr. Tom Wigley, Climate and Energy Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

Steven Pinker, Harvard University, author of Better Angels of Our Nature

Michael Shellenberger, Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” President of Environmental Progress

Pushker Kharecha, Climate Science, Awareness, and Solutions Program, Columbia University, Earth Institute, Columbia University

Alan Medsker, Coordinator, Environmental Progress - Illinois

Andrew C. Klein, Past President, American Nuclear Society, Professor Emeritus, Oregon State University

Barrett Walker, Alex C. Walker Foundation

Dr. Erle C. Ellis, Professor, Geography & Environmental Systems, University of Maryland

Joe Lassiter, Professor, Harvard Business School

Joshua S. Goldstein, Prof. Emeritus of International Relations, American University

Mark Lynas, Author, The God Species, Six Degrees

Robert Stone, filmmaker, “Pandora’s Promise”


[1] Mark Szybist, “PA Needs Clean Energy. Why Are Legislators Stuck on Nuclear?” NRDC, February 1, 2019.

[2] Dean Murphy and Mark Berkman, “Impacts of Announced Nuclear Retirements in Ohio and Pennsylvania,” Brattle Group, April 2018.

[3] John Finnigan, Environmental Defense Fund, “Why We Still Need America’s Nuclear Plants — At Least For Now,” April 17, 2017. Jeremy Richardson, “Natural Gas is Undermining Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants—And That’s Bad News for the Climate,” Union of Concerned Scientists, November 8, 2018.

[4] Terry Dinan, “Federal Support for Developing, Producing, and Using Fuels and Energy Technologies,” Congressional Budget Office, March 29, 2017.