SACRAMENTO, California — Democrats are picking a fight over nuclear energy in one of the most competitive congressional districts in the country.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is attacking Republican Rep. David Valadao over his position on California’s last remaining nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon.
Valadao voted in 2021 against the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which allocated $6 billion for nuclear power. Then he visited the plant on California’s Central Coast in August, after the law helped prevent its closure, and praised the plant’s role in “lowering costs, creating jobs and strengthening our national security.”
The DCCC is seizing on that in Democratic former state Assemblymember Rudy Salas’ bid to unseat Valadao.
The Biden White House and Democratic campaigns around the country are leveling similar accusations against dozens of congressional Republicans who voted against federal spending packages and then celebrated projects supported by the spending.
In California, a state with some of the country’s highest energy costs and its most ambitious renewable energy plans, the strategy will test Democrats’ pitch that theirs is the party of energy affordability and reliability.
“After voting to gut the funding that kept this cost-cutting, job-creating, and state-powering energy hub afloat, David Valadao had the nerve to parade around the nuclear plant praising their work and assumed no one would notice,” DCCC spokesperson Dan Gottlieb said in a statement. “Voters have had enough of the hypocritical publicity stunts.”
Valadao, a dairy farmer first elected to Congress in 2012, is in a Democratic-leaning Central Valley district that keeps returning him to office, including in a 2022 race against Salas. The election’s results could be pivotal to the control of Congress in 2024.
Valadao has said he supports an “all of the above approach” to energy production, including nuclear, and he cosponsored unsuccessful federal legislation in 2021 to keep the plant open.
“Whether it’s oil, natural gas, coal, wind, nuclear, solar, or hydropower, we have the resources right in our own backyard to provide Californians with low-cost, reliable energy,” he said in a statement.
And while he did vote against the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, he didn’t vote against Diablo specifically: The law created a $6 billion fund for nuclear from which the Biden administration later allocated $1.1 billion to the California plant.
Support for nuclear power in California — at least at its existing plant — is now bipartisan as everyone tries to keep the lights on amid the state’s Democrat-driven transition to renewable energy.
Salas was ahead of the curve: He was the only Democrat in the state Legislature to vote against a 2018 plan to close the plant by 2025. Contrast that with the Legislature’s overwhelming, 100-4 bipartisan vote last year to keep the plant open until 2030 to assuage grid reliability concerns.
Republicans said the DCCC should look at the party’s own voting record.
“Extreme Democrats are trying to rewrite their history of pushing to shut down Diablo Canyon,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Ben Petersen said in a statement.
Salas said the plant provides reliable power — and so would he.
“While I wasn’t afraid to buck my party for the good of the Central Valley on this issue, Valadao could not be bothered to do the same — he says one thing in the district while voting to raise our energy costs in DC,” he said in a statement.
This report first appeared in the California Climate Newsletter.