Nuclear power plant would be a boon to local economy
This past spring, I spent quite a bit of time doing community organizing work in Elmore County on the rezone for Alternate Energy Holdings Inc.'s proposed power plant. This included visiting Elmore County towns for petition signatures and showing people how they could get involved in the effort to bring well-paying jobs and clean industry to Elmore County.
It was hard work and exciting, but I wasn't emotionally prepared for the poverty I would see going door-to-door in Glenns Ferry and Hammett. In homes, food lines, businesses and on the street, I came across hardworking people very worried about their futures and how they would keep a roof over their heads. Many were seasonal agricultural workers.
Economic development is a social justice issue. Many times, influential people who run the established order want to keep things the way they are. That's not necessarily a bad thing especially if, like Elmore County farmers, they work hard, employ people and produce a needed product like food.
However, if the established order also includes keeping people in poverty, there is something very, very wrong with that. One way to address it is through government programs. But for people to be truly economically self-sufficient, they need family-wage jobs with benefits. A power plant with 500 direct jobs, 1,500 spin-off jobs and average wages of $80,000 is one way to do it.
There is great need: according to Census Bureau data, poverty rates in the Glenns Ferry and Hammett ZIP codes are between 17 and 21 percent, well above the 12 percent state average (http://tinyurl.com/nra2jg). Of course, there are other ways to provide these jobs and if anyone else genuinely wants to provide family-wage jobs with a new industry, I urge them to submit their plans.
Also, the industries that create these family-wage jobs are taxed at much higher industrial and commercial rates. Those taxes pay for school, fire, police, parks, libraries, planning, administration, roads and lowering the taxes of everyone else. Currently, agricultural taxes simply don't provide this level of local government funding. A power plant should also go above and beyond tax obligations and construct public buildings, establish scholarships and run a foundation for the privilege of being in a community.
It's sad to hear people say, "The nuclear plant won't hire Elmore people," as though Elmore residents can't work in a security-conscious, technically-oriented setting. I think Elmore residents are among the best qualified for nuclear plant jobs, because many are veterans or used to work at Mountain Home Air Force Base. A nuclear plant has many military aspects, including extreme security consciousness; a highly trained, armed security force; and strong safety culture.
Most jobs at a nuclear plant don't require a college degree and some don't require high levels of training: foodservice, janitors, landscaping and materials handling. Other jobs need training ranging from certification to advanced college degrees: mechanics, security officers, technicians, office workers, pipefitters, attorneys, managers, electricians or nuclear physicists. We believe Elmore residents already qualify for the vast majority of these jobs. We hope bright Elmore County youths will be able to return home and work at our plant or spin-off industries. In addition, the plentiful power from a nuclear plant will attract other industry.
Best of all, agriculture can continue as it always has, although wages for ag jobs may rise in a competitive job market. Our nuclear plant would occupy just 200 acres. As is common with nuclear plants, the land around ours will continue to be farmed and create a security buffer. Interestingly, the American Farm Bureau calls for increased use of nuclear power (http://tinyurl.com/kokgnq).
Environmental groups normally align themselves with social justice causes. But in this case, some are working alongside a few Hammett-area farmers to, in effect, keep struggling people from accessing better-paid jobs and opportunity. In this clash of principles, the struggling families of Elmore County have been on the losing side.
The environmental groups might say "We're not against family-wage jobs, but a nuclear plant isn't the way to do it." To which I respond: If you cared to ask the struggling families of Elmore County what they think and want, you might not be so eager to tell them no.
(Editor's note: Johncox handles public relations for AEHI).