WASHINGTON -- The 2011 spending bill the U.S. House passed early Saturday prolongs a dispute over a final portion of the Yucca Mountain Project.
The bill directs the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to halt efforts to close out the Nevada nuclear waste program. After its House passage, the bill was sent to the Senate, where the Yucca provision was expected to be targeted for removal by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
House lawmakers voted 235-189 to pass the $1 trillion measure to fund government agencies until the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
It contains more than $61 billion in spending cuts from current levels as the new Republican majority, and in particular its 87 freshmen, campaigned to shrink the government. Democrats charged many of the cuts were too deep and hit the wrong targets.
Reps. Dean Heller and Joe Heck, both R-Nev., voted for the bill. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., voted against it.
Lawmakers worked into the early morning hours each of the four days the bill was debated, laboring through nearly 600 amendments. Final passage came around 4:45 a.m. Saturday.
The proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository was among dozens of issues raised. The Obama administration, with a big push from Reid, has ended the program within the Department of Energy and is working to close it out at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The plan to tunnel into mountains 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas for storage and burial of high-level nuclear waste ran into opposition at each step from Nevada elected leaders and environmental groups that challenged its safety.
But in Congress, lawmakers from both parties say the administration was motivated by politics and overstepped its authority in ending Yucca Mountain, a charge Obama officials dispute.
During debate Saturday, Heller sought to blunt the Yucca Mountain language in the spending bill.
His proposal to defund the project was defeated by voice vote.
"Yucca Mountain, as a storage location for the nation's nuclear waste, is dead," Heller said. "Yucca Mountain is in my district, and our state has been dealing with this boondoggle project for literally decades."
Heller's amendment drew seven speakers in opposition. Lawmakers from both parties urged its defeat.
"There is no scientific basis for what is happening," said Norm Dicks, D-Wash., a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee.
"This project is being stopped without Congress changing the law, and I think it is a travesty."
"The fact of the matter is, this is the law of the country," said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. "This is the repository, period."
Meanwhile, an organization based in Heller's district lobbied against his amendment, saying it would "kill even more jobs in Nevada."
Nevadans for Carbon Free Energy, a Reno-based group whose members say they want to preserve the ability to convert the Yucca site into an energy park for nuclear fuel research, said his amendment would halt environmental monitoring at the site "and eliminate the few remaining positions in Nevada related to Yucca."
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760.