CARSON CITY — Nevada is ready to continue its fight against any efforts to license Yucca Mountain as a high-level nuclear waste dump with a vote Tuesday by a state board to extend a contract for private legal representation.
The state Board of Examiners, made up of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, approved the $5 million contract extension between the state and the Washington, D.C., legal firm of Egan, Fitzpatrick, Malsch & Lawrence for work related to the Yucca Mountain project.
The vote comes after a federal appeals court ruled in August that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission acted improperly when it shelved license hearings for the repository selected by Congress in 2002.
Despite the ruling, state officials said a licensing hearing is unlikely to proceed because there is virtually no money at the federal level to do so.
Marta Adams, a senior deputy attorney general who has been working on Nevada’s fight against the project for years, told the Board of Examiners that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission only has about $11 million left in its nuclear waste licensing account for a Yucca Mountain proceeding, tens of millions less than would be needed to move the process forward.
“It won’t last,” she said. “I think we’re in good shape.”
Sandoval said the small amount of funding now available for the licensing proceeding, along with the unwillingness of the Obama administration to fund it further, puts Nevada in a strong position.
“So it’s a little bit of a wait and see of what we have to do and that was the importance of this contract,” he said. “In the event the situation changes, Nevada will be prepared.”
Ninety percent of the funding for the contract extension comes from the federal government, but that money cannot be used in any lawsuits filed by Nevada in challenging the project, Adams said. The federal money can only be used by the legal team in any licensing proceedings before the commission.
So far the state has spent $36 million fighting the project, with about $14 million of that total coming from the state general fund and the rest from the federal government.
Despite the Obama administration’s refusal to move forward with the project, it was given a boost last month when the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its ruling regarding the Yucca site, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The ruling is likely to provoke new rounds of political and legal maneuvers among supporters and critics of the project that — until Obama was elected — pitted the federal government and the nuclear industry against the state of Nevada that has fought furiously to keep high-level waste from its borders.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801