CARSON CITY — State lawmakers raised questions Monday about how much money Nevada might need to provide for legal costs in the fight against federal efforts to open a high-level nuclear waste dump at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.
Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto told the Senate Finance Committee she needs about $5 million for legal costs in dealing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is considering a licensing application for the dump.
The state’s NRC-related costs could eventually double that amount, Cortez Masto added. The state’s petition to the NRC listed more than 200 reasons to keep a federal nuclear waste dump out of the southern portion of the state.
The federal Department of Energy applied to the NRC last year for a permit to operate the dump at Yucca Mountain. The commission has four years to act on the proposal.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford asked Cortez Masto whether her office would have adequate resources to wage the legal fight against the dump, while Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio said she must ensure oversight is provided over outside counsel hired by the state.
Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, said that the state must continue to fight the nuclear dump and cannot rely on funds from federal sources. The Finance Committee co-chairman added that Gov. Jim Gibbons’ position on the nuclear dump is unclear.
"He says he’s against it but yet he hasn’t provided the funding in this budget to make sure that we’re adequately responding and doing everything that we possibly can to make sure that Yucca Mountain never happens," Horsford said.
Raggio, R-Reno, said he does not know how the state will come up with the projected cost for legal counsel.
"Let’s assume it’s $10 million. How do we get the $10 million? You know, I’m really kind of at a loss on all this," Raggio said. "I hear all of these statements, our senior senator says this project is dead, the president’s office says it dead and yet we’re going through this process. We could be expending $20 million. What’s going on?"
"The fact of life is these attorneys who’ve been working on this for over a decade pretty much have a blank check. I mean what kind of monitoring is there to how this money is spent?" Raggio also said.
Asked after the hearing about Raggio’s comments, Cortez Masto said she has an obligation to continue defending the state.
"From my perspective though, it’s not dead. I mean, I’m still moving forward and I have to," Cortez Masto said. "I have to be prepared with the court cases and I have to (be) prepared to proceed through the administrative process. That’s still moving forward."
Cortez Masto also told lawmakers her office has a process that ensures oversight of outside counsel. Since 1999, her office has paid a total of $2.7 million in general fund dollars to outside lawyers dealing with Yucca Mountain, she said.
Finance Co-Chairwoman Bernice Mathews said the committee has to wait and see what happens with respect to future proceedings and costs involving Yucca Mountain.
"We’re going to wait and see if the state has to come up with that, and as the attorney general said, we’ll wait until we cross that bridge, and if we have to, we do," Mathews, D-Reno said.