Congressional Candidates Queried

In July, TMIA Chairman Eric Epstein wrote the letter below to Congressmen Gekas and Holden, now, thanks to redistricting, vying for the same seat which includes Three Mile Island and many of its neighbors. Following the letter are the responses from both candidates.



TMI Alert's Letter to Candidates

Good morning:
Three Mile Island Alert has been central Pennsylvania’s leading advocate of safe energy generation for more than 25 years. During this time we have developed a reputation as a purveyor of solid, factual information about matters of importance to local citizens, state and federal regulatory agencies, elected officials at all levels, and the news media.

As a candidate in the upcoming election, we are most interested in presenting your positions on matters of interest to our constituents. Please take a few minutes and complete both enclosed questionnaires, one seeking your position on important issues, the other merely providing us with information about your campaign organization should we need clarification about these or other matters that may come up during the campaign.

If there is other information you think it important for TMIA’s members and friends to know about you, don’t hesitate to include it. For example, we would be eager to learn about your voting record on energy and environmental matters. Are you generally pro-environment and pro-safe energy? Have you played a leadership role in advancing environmental legislation or other initiatives? Or have you played a role in educating consumers or encouraging colleagues to oppose legislation or initiatives harmful to the environment? It would also be interesting to know what you consider your most significant pro-environmental achievement.

Kindly have both questionnaires completed and returned to us no later than August 8, 2002. You may use our mailing of fax addresses shown above, or e-mail your response to us at Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.

Eric Epstein, Chairman
Three Mile Island Alert


Three Mile Island Alert
Candidate Questionnaire and the Responses from
Congressmen Gekas & Holden


1. Currently, four major Pennsylvania electric utilities include a modest surcharge on residential bills to support the advancement of sustainable energy sources, such as wind power, solar power, and other renewable energy sources, as well as energy conservation and energy efficiency initiatives. Do you support this practice and would you advocate its continuation?
HOLDEN: Sustainable energy funds in Pennsylvania were created as a result of the energy legislation passed by the State Legislature; there fore I do not feel it is a matter for Congress to decide. Rather, it is a matter that should be addressed to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and the Pennsylvania Legislature. However, from my understanding of the funds, their limited resources prevent them from making any type of significant impact towards the advancement of sustainable energy resources. If the program is to be continued, I would like to see it expanded in a way for all the funds to make a greater impact towards their mission.
GEKAS: The authority to place a renewable energy surcharge on utilities derives entirely from state law and regulation. As a resident of central Pennsylvania, I certainly am aware of these surcharges. However, I actually do not have the ability to officially represent my fellow central Pennsylvanians on this issue. Respectfully, I would defer such questions to our capable state representatives and senators.

2. The Governor’s Office recently announced the distribution of potassium iodide pills for those living within ten miles of a commercial nuclear reactor. Do you believe a ten-mile radius is adequate? If not, how would you augment the current distribution plan?
HOLDEN: Many scientific studies have shown that ten miles is a very substantial distance for released radiation to travel. The most immediate danger lies with those closest to the nuclear power plant and science has shown that outside a 10-mile radius, that risk drops significantly. I feel comfortable with the Governor's decision to distribute potassium iodide to individuals in the 10-mile radius of a power plant because as we all know, the benefit of taking a potassium iodide pill is that it provides a temporary protection from thyroid cancer. It is not meant to be a substitute for evacuation. The real objective here should be evacuation. If there is a radiation leak, individuals should be most concerned with how to evacuate the area, not about taking a pill.
GEKAS: I am very please that the Governor’s office has decided to distribute potassium iodide (KI) pills to those living within ten miles of a commercial nuclear facility. I urged the Governor and PEEMA to accept the KI pills offered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). I introduced legislation in Congress that called upon the federal government to work with state emergency response agencies to provide stockpiles of KI tablets. I worked closely with the Governor and PEMA to address their initial concerns (i.e. children’s dosages, shelf-life, etc.) and I worked to make sure that the NRC addressed these concerns so that the pills could finally be distributed.
I recently visited two designated distribution points for KI tablets. I hope that everyone living within the emergency Planning Zones of commercial nuclear facilities takes the time to get the pills, and to educate themselves about the uses and benefits of this important medication. Still, evacuation remains the best course of action should an emergency arise. I would support extensions beyond a ten-mile radius.

3. Pennsylvania state government has announced a program to purchase five percent (5%) of its electric energy needs from renewable energy sources for the next two years, roughly 100 million kilowatt-hours of green power. Would you increase that amount or extend the pledge beyond the second year?
HOLDEN: Since this is a new program, I would like to see how successful it is before we decide to extend it. If it works, I would surely advocate its extension. I support an increase in the consumption of green power, however, I am not sure if, at the current time, an increased green generation capacity exists in Pennsylvania. Therefore, any required increase may result in the purchasing of green power from outside the state, resulting in no net increase in benefit to the Pennsylvania environment. Any increase of this program must be done so with a commitment to using resources within Pennsylvania so that our state reaps the environmental benefit.
GEKAS: I am a supporter of renewable energy use. As stated below, I believe the federal government can play a role in renewable energy development through tax credits. Contracting decisions made by the commonwealth, however, are not matters on which I can officially represent my fellow central Pennsylvanians. Respectfully, I would defer such questions to our capable state representatives and senators.

4. Would you support legislation or action by the Public Utility Commission requiring all Pennsylvania retail utilities to secure at least ten percent (10%) of their power from renewable sources by 2008?
HOLDEN: I think a required renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of ten percent by 2008 is too aggressive for the same reason I outlined in the previous question. Pennsylvania does not currently have the renewable generation capacity needed to meet such an aggressive standard. Implementing such a standard would cause utilities to buy green power from outside the state, yielding no environmental benefit to Pennsylvania. An increased RPS is a goal we should work towards, but I do not feel ten percent by 2008 is achievable under current conditions.
GEKAS: For the reasons stated above, I must respectfully defer this question to our state elected officials.

5. Would you support granting tax credits for investments in power plants that rely on renewable energy technologies including solar thermal energy, photo-voltaics, wind, fuel cells, methane waste, sustainable managed biomass, geothermal and hydropower at existing dams?
HOLDEN: I would absolutely support tax credits for investment in power plants that rely on renewable energy technologies. I would say however, these tax credits should not be proposed in exclusion of similar tax credits for technology for the clean consumption of abundant sources of domestic fossil fuels.

GEKAS: Renewable energy technology is clearly the wave of the future. I have always supported the development of renewable energy technology. I do believe traditional market forces can be utilized to protect the environment. Tax credits provide strong incentives for companies to engage in research and development. By developing renewable energy technology, we will not only be improving the environment, but will provide many jobs in the United States and strengthen our national security by being less reliant on foreign sources of energy. I introduced legislation designed to move the United States to a position of energy self-sufficiency. We have passed a comprehensive energy plan that advances this goal in the House. Unfortunately, the measure has not been passed by the Senate, and President Bush has again requested Senate action so he can sign this much-needed legislation into law.

6. Would you favor giving consumers the “right to know” by requiring utilities to disclose the electricity sources on their bills (e.g. nuclear 20%, coal 50%, etc.)?
HOLDEN: I would surely support a consumers "right to know" provision. The more information consumers have, the better.
GEKAS: No response submitted.

7. Do you favor the permanent deployment of the National Guard at nuclear power plants?
HOLDEN: The National Guard is not a permanent military force and does not have the resources to permanently guard nuclear power plants. I would support continued use of the Guard on an interim basis until the August 31 deadline for implementation of the NRC's new patrol standards.
GEKAS: National Guard troops should be used to supplement nuclear facility security personnel when deemed necessary by the Governor. Governor Schweiker has called out the National Guard to assist in deterring possible threats to our Commonwealth’s five nuclear power plants. I have spoken many times with Pennsylvania’s Adjutant General, Major General William Lynch, about the Pennsylvania guard’s role at Pennsylvania nuclear power plants and have fully lent my support to their efforts. They have joined considerable plant security and state trooper forces in maintaining a deterrence and response capability. However, I have initiated federal legislation seeking federal funding and benefits for National guardsmen on duty at nuclear power plants. The National Guardsmen patrolling airports across our Commonwealth in the wake of 9/11 were provided with such assistance; as a matter of fairness, our Guardsmen patrolling nuclear power plants should receive equal treatment. Beyond the issue of fairness, I believe the federal government bears considerable responsibility for nuclear power security. Fundamentally, what we need to do is thoroughly examine current security arrangements and ensure that any military forces used to augment private and police security are fully trained for the mission and fully integrated into existing security plans. My legislation would commit federal agencies (like the Department of Defense and Nuclear Regulatory Agency), the National Guard, and private plant operators to increase their coordination.
Additionally, I recently requested a classified briefing from Air Force officials on the state of combat fighter patrols over Three Mile Island. Major General Larry Arnold flew up form his headquarters at Tyndall AFB, Florida to Harrisburg International Airport to brief me and Pennsylvania National Guard commanders on Air Force plans to defend nuclear and chemical plants. General Arnold personally commands all fighter patrols over the continental United States and has combat authority to order our fighters to shoot down hijacked airliners that could be used as flying bombs. My meeting with General Arnold, and some of the fighter pilots that defend our skies today, reinforced my belief that the Department of Defense is in fact taking this role very seriously and has a strategy for dealing with airborne threats.

8. Currently, emergency evacuation plans are in place for a ten-mile radius from the state’s nuclear plants. Do you believe that radius should be extended to 15, 20, or 25 miles?
HOLDEN: See question 2.
GEKAS: 15 miles would (be) my starting point in the development of an evacuation plan.

9. Would you support upgrading the evacuation plans currently in place to address the following shortcomings?
•PennDOT is not required to develop alternate evacuation plans when working on a designated evacuation route, nor even required to notify FEMA that construction is underway.
•Some school bus drivers have stated publicly they would refuse to participate in the emergency evacuation of school children.
•There are no plans in place to evacuate children from private day care centers.
HOLDEN: If these conditions exist, I would absolutely support updating the current evacuation plan.
GEKAS: I support any effort to improve evacuation plans and preparedness. The best way to do this is through communication. I support efforts to increase communication between PennDOT and FEMA and hope that the concerns of schools and day care centers are addressed immediately. I intend to convene a symposium on these matters as I previously did on first responders to “alerts.”

10. Do you favor the construction of a new generation of nuclear generating stations, such as the pebble bed reactor?
HOLDEN: We should always consider new technology that will allow us to generate energy more efficiently. However, we need to be absolutely sure the technology is safe before we can think about putting it online.
GEKAS: I would have to learn more about new generations of nuclear generating stations and the specific technologies that would be utilized before I could support them.

11. Highly radioactive nuclear wastes are scheduled to be transported through Pennsylvania enroute to Yucca Mountain, Nevada. An accident or a terrorist attack on these shipments could be catastrophic for Pennsylvanians. Do you support the transport of these wastes through Pennsylvania? If so, what safeguards do you believe are necessary to ensure the safety of Pennsylvania residents?
HOLDEN: I support the transportation of spent fuel to Yucca Mountain in Nevada. I would prefer the spent fuel be stored in this permanent facility rather than at temporary sites around the state. I would expect the NRC to strictly regulate the security required for transportation, type of casks, etc, in order to ensure the safety of Pennsylvania residents.
GEKAS: Since 1983, Pennsylvania energy consumers have committed over $1.617 billion into the federal Nuclear Waste Fund to finance nuclear waste management beginning in January 1998. These consumers deserve a return on their investment. The Department of Energy believes that the Yucca mountain site is a potential repository for this waste, and I support its development. There are 3,966 metric tons of nuclear waste stored in Pennsylvania. I am strongly in favor of moving this nuclear waste to a facility that can store it permanently. Yucca Mountain is this site. We must review the safety standards regularly.

12. Recently there have been reports of the ease with which terrorists could obtain nuclear materials for the construction of “dirty bombs.” Since the federal government has done a poor job of maintaining and tracking nuclear materials, would you advocate and create an ongoing “nuclear census” for radioactive materials within Pennsylvania?
HOLDEN: I believe such a requirement already exists. Nuclear power plants must keep an inventory and account for all nuclear fuel. If it is determined that there is a need for additional recording, I would support it.
GEKAS: No response.

Three Mile Island Alert Control Room