San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune
September 12, 1973
Ed Koupal and the People’s Lobby
Who’s the strongest opponent of nuclear power in California?
“The Sierra Club” was the unanimous response of a score of construction workers from the Diablo Canyon project, bellied up to a beer bar in Avila Beach on a weekday afternoon.
“Nonsense,” said the PG&E public relations man in San Francisco. “The Sierra Club—at least the Santa Lucia chapter in San Luis Obispo—may have hurt us a little on siting the transmission lines from Diablo. But the real enemy of nuclear power in California is an ex-used car salesman named Ed Koupal. He’s massive. He runs the People’s Lobby down in L.A.”
Ed Koupal is lying, shirtless, on the bed in a motel room In Morro Bay. It is a Sunday afternoon in late August. His wife Joyce is seated in one of the two chairs. Sprawled all over the floor of the small room and out onto a second floor balcony are a dozen young people, the People’s Lobby shock troops the Koupals call “the elephants and the mules” of their 20,000-member organization.
“We’re not against nuclear power,” says Koupal. “We’re against unsafe power.”
People’s Lobby was founded in 1970. It cut its political teeth on Prop. 9 (the Clean Environment Act), which it says went down to a 3.6 million to 2.1 million defeat statewide because a five-year moratorium on the construction of nuclear power plants was Included as an after thought—”like the caboose on a freight train.”
The Koupals and their young cohorts, mostly college students from Los Angeles, San Jose and Sacramento, are in Morro Bay to talk about the strategy of their next initiative campaigns and about the economic realities of running a statewide political organization full time.
They hope to qualify three measures for the November 1974 ballot; one on cleaning up the environment, one on cleaning up the state government, and a third called “The Energy Act.”
The last is all about nuclear power, but it deliberately steers clear of the moratorium angle, the Koupals explain.
“Nuclear power is controversial,” says Joyce Koupal, ‘‘and you can’t qualify initiatives with controversy.”
(Qualification will mean gathering about 500,000 petition signatures in order to come up with 325,000 valid ones.) This is where the elephants (who never forget what they’ve been told) and the mules (who do all the work) come in. The petition drive is under way.
They’ve already been busy. In the room are 20-vear-olds who have been active in the tight against a PG&E-proposed nuclear power plant at Davenport, near Santa Cruz; others who’ve been keeping an eye on the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District’s Nuclear plant under construction near Rio Seco; still others who have crowded into bearing rooms to urge the state Public Utilities Commission to halt the projected tripling of the size of the 430,000-kilowatt nuclear plant at San Onofre, operated since 1968 by Southern California Edison and San Diego Light and Power Co.
– “1 think nuclear power is a dead industry, at least in California,” says Ed Koupal. “When a former used car salesman (10 years peddling Chrysler products) like me can go up against a nuclear physicist and stop him cold with nothing but the plain truth, I’m scared for the future of that industry.
“The only physics I ever had was Ex-Lax”
People’s Lobby, the Koupals say, is supported by the sale of memberships ($10 for non~ students, $5 for students annually), the “Bike for Life” marathons and, most recently, by two “instant” job printing shops in Los Angeles and San Jose and a bike shop in Los Angeles.
(The Morro Bay meeting has a communal air: the printers and the bike people are there to talk about profits. There’s a general feeling of getting together to slay dragons. The fiery breath of PG&E’s Morro Bay steam plant comes in for comment. Says Koupal: “They release so much from those stacks it made it rain here last night.”)
“PG&E and Edison are absolutely paranoid about Ed,” says Joyce Koupal proudly, talking of his appearances on talk shows like Mike Douglas’s and a segment of the recent three-hour National Broadcasting Company special on the energy crisis. “They tape him every time he’s on.”
Koupal, fussing with papers in a briefcase, wants to get back to what he sees as the fundamental issue.
“We’re not against nuclear power,” he repeals. “We’re pro-safety. If the Atomic Energy Commission and PG&E and the rest of them can prove to us that it’s safe, we’ll take out newspaper ads in whatever papers they select to let the world know that we’re buying their deal.
“We just want them to prove that there’s no risk in the emergency core cooling systems of the reactors, that atomic garbage won’t poison the underground water for our children and their children’s children and that the industry is able to insure itself.
“Is that so much to ask?”