WASHINGTON — A House subcommittee signed off on a bill Thursday that allocates $35 million to keep alive the Yucca Mountain Project.
Republican leaders acknowledged the amount was small but was intended to send a message to President Barack Obama that Congress is rejecting his administration’s effort to eliminate all funding, terminate the Nevada nuclear site and seek a new nuclear waste strategy.
“We’ve made a substantial investment as a nation in Yucca Mountain. This keeps it alive,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the energy and water appropriations subcommittee.
Frelinghuysen noted the bill contains a provision directing the Nuclear Regulatory Committee to move forward on an application to build a repository for nuclear waste from power plants and government installations.
The GOP-controlled subcommittee has been particularly critical of a directive by NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko to the agency staff to wind down its review of the Yucca project absent permission from Congress.
“We are serious about Yucca Mountain,” said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.
Simpson said $35 million was chosen because “that was the amount of money we could find. We needed to put some money in to show that Congress continues to support Yucca Mountain.”
House Republicans are seeking to scale back spending. The bill that was approved Wednesday contains $30.6 billion — $1 billion less than last year and $5.9 billion less than Obama requested — for the Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a host of smaller agencies.
Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., a Yucca critic, said the House was wasting its money on the 25-year-old project, which has cost $15 billion and could consume billions more.
“While the amount included in this bill is only a drop in the bucket given Yucca Mountain’s $100 billion cost, I oppose any additional spending on this failed effort,” Berkley said.
The energy bill still faces a vote in the full Appropriations Committee, and then in the House, before being sent to the Senate.
There, the Yucca Mountain spending will force another showdown with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who regularly has slashed the project, which is largely unpopular in his state.
“Senator Reid will never allow legislation that funds Yucca Mountain to pass the Senate, especially now that the administration is hard at work developing alternatives for managing nuclear waste,” Reid spokesman Zac Petkanas said.
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