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House rejects move to kill Yucca funding

WASHINGTON — A bid by two Nevada lawmakers to cut off funding and close the doors for good on the Yucca Mountain Project was slapped away on Thursday in the House.

A pair of lopsided votes against amendments by Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., suggested there still is substantial support for the controversial nuclear waste program in Congress even as the Obama administration has halted it and as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has used his influence to keep it all but dead.

An effort by Titus to strip $150 million in nuclear waste funding from an annual Energy Department spending bill was beaten back, 344-75. A second amendment that would have removed a part of the bill requiring the department to keep the project alive even if only on paper was defeated 326-96.

The bill containing $34 billion for programs run by the Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency pass the House on a 253-170 vote Thursday night.

The votes on the Titus amendments were consistent with the 335-81 vote on a similar amendment last year, and a 326-81 vote in 2012. They suggested the passage of time has not eroded support for the proposed repository among lawmakers not from Nevada. However, the Senate under Reid customarily strips out Yucca funding when the energy bill reaches that part of the Capitol.

In the Silver State, the upper echelon of state leaders and majorities in Clark and Washoe counties, the most populous, have strongly opposed the program, questioning its safety and the risks nuclear waste could bring to the local economy. Residents in rural counties tend to view the project as a potential job generator and economic boon.

In debates that took place late Wednesday, Titus said more than $15 billion has been “squandered on this boondoggle” that envisioned Yucca Mountain 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas for an industrial site to process and bury tens of thousands of tons of nuclear waste from commercial power plants. She said Congress should pursue a new “consent-based” strategy to recruit states that might be willing to host a nuke site.

But Yucca Mountain supporter Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., argued the repository plan remains “the law of the land,” and that President Barack Obama moved to halt it without approval from Congress. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said Obama acted against the project as part of a campaign promise to Nevada in the 2008 election.

Shimkus said he didn’t understand how Nevada could reject the project “for a state that has such a need for jobs and a diversification of the economy. “Nevada can’t rely on gaming for economic growth and development,” he said.

Titus was backed by fellow Nevada Democrat Steven Horsford, who said burying nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain was “unworkable.”

“We should find an appropriate alternative use for the site,” Horsford said. “People come to Las Vegas for the bright lights, not for radioactive glow.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.

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