Boxer invites Gibbons to speak about Yucca

WASHINGTON — A Senate chairwoman changed course and invited Gov. Jim Gibbons to speak at a hearing next Wednesday about Yucca Mountain, officials confirmed on Friday.

Sen, Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., issued the invitation on Thursday evening, a Gibbons spokeswoman said. It came a day after the Nevada governor complained to Boxer that he was left off a witness list for the hearing.

In a letter to Boxer, Gibbons hinted partisan politics may have been a factor in excluding him. The Boxer-led Environment and Publilc Works Committee invited Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, to speak on behalf of Nevada.

Organizers denied that Gibbons was snubbed, but decided to invite the governor to avoid a political mess, according to a Senate official familiar with the matter.

Others said prominent Republicans including Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and senior committee member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., urged that Gibbons be included.

Now that Gibbons has secured an invite, he is examining his schedule for the coming week, which otherwise will be dominated by budget meetings in Carson City, spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin said.

“We do have a couple items on our schedule that have been there for quite a while but we will do our best to rearrange those,” Subbotin said. “It is a really tough time for us to leave in the middle in the week.

“It is such a critical time on the budget process, and that is our No. 1 priority, but we will do everything we can to participate one way or another,” Subbotin said.

The committee reshuffled its speaker lineup to make room for the Nevada governor, and finally released its witness list Friday.

The hearing was organized by Boxer at the request of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who has made her opposition to the nuclear waste project a major element of her campaign in Nevada for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The meeting will be the first Democrat-assembled examination of the Yucca project since the party took control of the Senate at the beginning of the year. With leading Yucca Mountain critic Harry Reid, D-Nev., as Senate majority leader, the nuclear waste program is expected to face tougher scrutiny.

Besides Gibbons, the witness list includes Reid, Ensign, Masto and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; Ward Sproat, Yucca Mountain project director; and representatives from the Environmental Proection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Also scheduled to speak are Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, which has been critical of the repository; and James Y. Kerr II, a North Carolina public utilities commissioner representing the pro-repository National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

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

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