Yucca Mountain advocates seek muscle in House vote

WASHINGTON -- Advocates for burying nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada aimed to flex their muscle in the U.S. House on Thursday in a vote to revive the contentious project.

Lawmakers voted 297-130 to double funding, from $10 million to $20 million, for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue a license review for the proposed waste repository.

The dollar amount was relatively small for an agency that received $68.5 million for high-level nuclear waste in fiscal 2005, when the Yucca Mountain program was full speed ahead.

But Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., said the intent of his amendment rather was to put the House on record in support of the Yucca project in opposition to the Obama administration that has now largely closed it down.

The Shimkus amendment initially was approved by voice vote and added to a 2012 energy spending bill. Still, he requested a recorded vote.

"I have had a lot of my colleagues ... talk to me about when are we going to have a vote on the floor to show our support for what we have done?" Shimkus said.

Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., added, "We need to have a vote on it so that we can show how important this is to members of Congress."

The last time the House voted on Yucca Mountain was in July 2009, when the project was supported in a 388-80 vote. Thursday's vote resulted in a narrower margin.

Reps. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and Joe Heck, R-Nev., voted against the nuclear waste funds.

"Nevadans are experiencing 'Yucca Mountain deja vu' as they again watch House Republicans demand more wasteful spending on efforts to turn our home into a nuclear garbage dump," Berkley said.

The House was expected to complete the 2012 energy and water bill today . Rejecting the Obama administration's plan to complete the shutdown, the legislation contains $45 million for Yucca Mountain, split between the NRC and the Department of Energy.

"We're going to keep Yucca Mountain open," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., the chairman of the energy and water subcommittee.

Yucca proponents argue the administration may have acted illegally by moving to terminate the project without seeking permission from Congress that had authorized a repository in several laws dating to 1982.

But as the latest spending bill moves through Congress, it is following a familiar script.

In the House, lawmakers from nuclear power districts have provided broad support for the Yucca Mountain strategy to store their nuclear waste. They fund the project in the energy bill that is sent to the Senate, where powerful opponent Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., seeks to cut it sharply or entirely.

Reid said Thursday he once again will seek to end the program.

"It's remarkable that supposedly 'fiscal conservative' House Republicans continue their drumbeat to waste tens-of-millions of taxpayer dollars on paperwork to pursue this failed project that is going nowhere," Reid said in a statement.

"Fortunately for Nevadans, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump will simply never move forward under my watch as Senate majority leader."

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.