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House bill guts funding for Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site

WASHINGTON — A $46 billion House spending bill for the Department of Energy and other programs slashed President Donald Trump’s request for funds to revive the licensing process needed to develop Yucca Mountain, setting up a likely showdown with the Senate, officials said Tuesday.

The House spending bill was released by a subcommittee without the funding for the Nye County site just one week after Nevada lawmakers met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and asked for help to block efforts to put a permanent nuclear waste repository in the state.

“Keeping funding for Yucca Mountain out of this legislation was no small task,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., the dean of the Nevada congressional delegation. Titus thanked Pelosi and House Appropriations Committee leadership.

“This fight is far from over, but I’m encouraged by the support on our side,” Titus said.

The House Appropriations subcommittee is expected to pass the bill tomorrow and move it to the full committee for approval, considered likely under Democratic control.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to mark up its spending bill for energy and water, but Rep. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said earlier this year that he sees Yucca Mountain as part of a long-range plan to address storage of nuclear waste produced by power plants.

Any difference in House and Senate spending bills would be decided by a conference committee, which will write a final bill reconciling differences in the two pieces of legislation.

Trump wants Yucca money

In his fiscal budget for 2020, which begins Oct. 1, Trump requested $116 million to revive the licensing process on the Department of Energy’s application to develop Yucca Mountain as a permanent repository.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry testified before congressional committees earlier this year about the need to address the growing stockpile of nuclear waste at power plants across the country.

Yucca Mountain was designated by Congress in 1987 as the sole permanent repository for nuclear waste from power plants and Navy ships, but political opposition and the Obama administration halted the licensing process to develop the site.

Trump has sought funds to revive the licensing hearings in his past two budgets.

The House on a 2017 lopsided bipartisan vote approved funding to kick-start the hearings, but the money was blocked in the Senate, where former GOP Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, faced opposition in a re-election bid.

Heller defeat spurs Yucca bills

Heller lost his bid to Jacky Rosen, a first-term Nevada Democratic representative.

With Heller out, two Republican bills have been filed this year to restart licensing at Yucca Mountain, one by Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and another by Alexander, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development.

Titus testified earlier this year before the House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development and asked the Democrat-led panel to block funding for licensing of Yucca Mountain, citing environmental concerns and state opposition to the project.

Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located, and other rural Nevada counties support the licensing process, and favor the economic benefits of development if the site is deemed safe for nuclear waste storage.

Also testifying before the House panel was Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., who spoke of the need to dispose of nuclear waste that has been left scattered around the country due to the federal government’s failure to accept and dispose of the material. That failure costs taxpayers roughly $2 million per day, he said.

Nevada reps meet with speaker

Democrats Titus, Rep. Susie Lee and Rep. Steven Horsford, whose district includes Yucca Mountain, met with Pelosi last week to seek help in blocking the funding to jump start the licensing hearings before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Titus requested the meeting, seeking help.

Horsford said he appreciated Pelosi’s “willingness to hear our delegation’s concerns about Yucca Mountain’s ongoing threat to Nevada families and to our state’s $40 billion tourism industry.”

Pelosi said that she would work with the delegation to continue to block efforts to revitalize Yucca Mountain, according to a senior congressional staffer.

Rep. Mark Amodei, the lone Republican in the Nevada delegation, voted against the House bill in 2017 that would have funded licensing for Yucca Mountain.

But Amodei’s objection was due to his amendments for state oversight, potential routing of waste through Northern Nevada and his efforts to establish private and public partnerships for reprocessing waste if it stored in the state.

Meanwhile, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.. chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday the bill produced by the subcommittee invests in clean “technologies that are environmentally sound and economically advantageous.”

Lowey helped to block last-minute attempts to include Yucca Mountain funding in a spending bill for fiscal year 2019 passed earlier this year to end a government shutdown over the president’s demands for a border wall.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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