90°F
weather icon Clear

Heller, Rosen tangle over who can stop Yucca Mountain revival

WASHINGTON — A pivotal Senate race in Nevada that Republicans and Democrats covet for control of the upper chamber of Congress has become ground zero in the Yucca Mountain debate.

Both Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democratic challenger Rep. Jacky Rosen oppose a nuclear waste repository proposed for Yucca Mountain, and have fought to stop the project in Congress.

The issue was thrust into the testy Senate race last week when Heller and Rosen tangled over who best could stop the controversial nuclear repository from being built.

“The only way to keep Yucca Mountain from happening is to keep me in the United States Senate,” Heller told the Review-Journal.

Rosen countered: “If you have a Democratic Senate, you won’t have a problem with Yucca Mountain.”

It’s arguable whether Yucca Mountain is an election-year issue that will move voters to the ballot box, or whether it is even a partisan issue, rather than a geographical issue or, on the local level, one that largely divides rural and urban voters.

Historically, it has been Democrats who have opposed the project, according to Michael Green, a UNLV history professor and political analyst.

But Green concedes: “It’s always been a political football.”

No more so than now, in the Nevada Senate race.

Race considered a ‘toss-up’

Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, and Democrats have targeted Heller’s seat in their attempt to wrest control of the chamber. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race as a “toss-up.”

Heller used the Yucca Mountain issue to cast doubt on Rosen’s effectiveness in the House, which has pushed through legislation to restart the once shelved licensing process to build a waste storage facility that has been blocked by the Senate. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans.

Rosen cited her efforts to insert language into bills that would strip funding and protect military readiness training conducted at nearby installations that could be crimped with nuclear waste storage.

Regardless of her efforts, turning the tide in the House could be futile.

“The House has never been the place where the action has or hasn’t happened on this issue,” Green said, adding that the Senate provides more political leverage for a lawmaker, regardless of party affiliation.

“The Senate was designed to protect the less populated states,” he said.

Still, Yucca Mountain as a waste facility could be an inevitability.

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., was able to insert provisions in a House spending bill on energy and water that would give oversight of state transportation of waste to a Nevada company and funnel research funding for reprocessing nuclear waste to UNLV, efforts to mitigate the impact if Yucca Mountain opens.

Momentum is building to address the stockpiling of nuclear waste at power plants across the country. With “due respect” to Rosen and Heller, Amodei said any victory to halt the project could be fleeting.

“The politics in the Senate race dictate that Mitch McConnell will do anything and everything he can” right now to help Heller, Amodei said of the majority leader.

But 180 days from now, Amodei said, Republicans could abandon their zeal like Democrats did when Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., a staunch opponent of the Yucca Mountain project, retired.

“If there were the votes to kill Yucca Mountain in the Senate right now, they would be voting on it and Dean Heller would be the hero of Nevada,” Amodei mused. “If you really want to build him up, bring it to the floor and kill it. Ah, probably a little risky.”

Lawmakers hold ‘Yucca party’

Yucca Mountain was designated by Congress in 1987 as the site for nuclear storage from power plants across the country.

The licensing process of the Department of Energy’s application to construct Yucca Mountain was shelved in 2011 when the Obama administration pulled funding, at the behest of then-Senate Majority Leader Reid.

President Donald Trump and the House moved last year to restart the licensing process, which was blocked in the Senate when funds were not approved in the annual spending bill.

The House and Senate are again at an impasse. The House voted to spend $267 million to streamline the licensing process. The Senate has left it out of its spending bill.

Last month, the House passed its Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, 340-72, with 80 percent of lawmakers voting for the bill and 63 percent of Democrats. All four Nevada lawmakers — Amodei, Rosen, Rep. Dina Titus and Rep. Ruben Kihuen, both Democrats — voted against it.

The bill would streamline the licensing of Yucca Mountain and increase nuclear waste storage there from 70,000 to 110,000 metric tons of spent fuel and contaminated materials.

Heller said that after the bill was passed, the sponsor of the House bill, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., held a “Yucca party.”

Heller said there would be no Yucca Mountain parties if he is re-elected.

There is no companion legislation to the House bill in the Senate, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he plans to file legislation this year that would shift the focus to interim storage, although he favors opening Yucca Mountain as part of the solution of stockpiling waste nationwide.

Meanwhile, an attendee of the so-called “Yucca party” said the event was held to thank staff for work on the amendments bill after two years of work on the legislation.

A spokesman for Shimkus, Jordan Haverly, said: “A victory party would be premature at this point.”

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

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
May-Brown describes why some with disabilities need the subminimum wage - VIDEO
Eliminating the subminimum wage will end training and work opportunities for some members of the disabled community. Instead of doing something productive, they would be relegated to adult day care. That’s according to Tracy May-Brown, Opportunity Village’s director of advocacy, board and government relations.
Commission’s decision will delay Red Rock Canyon development
The Clark County Commission Wednesday rejected a developer’s request to approve a preliminary plan for 3,000 homes overlooking Red Rock Canyon before a federal agency grants permission for a roadway leading to the site.
Clark County commissioner calls on landlords to bring properties up to code
Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom has called on landlords in older parts of the valley to bring their properties up to code and keep them well-maintained or face the prospect of inspections, fines and citations. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Harry Reid speaks out against anti-Semitism
Unnerved by the rise in anti-Semitic hate speech and the general pervasiveness of bigotry, including in Nevada, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid organized an educational forum at UNLV on Thursday as part of his call to unite people against it. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
President Trump speaks to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and updated on Israeli relations. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump says border wall will have 'hundreds of miles' built by end of next year
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and discussed the progress of the border wall and the current relations there. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Protesters disrupt Trump's speech
Just as President Donald Trump started to make his opening remarks during his appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting, protesters disrupted his speech. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Roerink On The Problems With Taking Water From Eastern Nevada - Video
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to take billions of gallons of water that doesn’t exist from Eastern Nevada via a pipeline that would cost ratepayers $15 billion. Doing so would devastate the wildlife and people who live there. That’s according to Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, which opposes the pipeline.
Las Vegas Election Night Wrap-Up
The Review-Journal's Politics and Government Editor, Steve Sebelius, wraps up election night. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Olivia Diaz Speaks To Ward 3 Supporters After Primary Election - Video
Olivia Diaz speaks to her supporters at a election party after results started coming in for the Ward 3 primaries.
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (edited)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife, Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (Full)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Gun Debate Shows Limits Of Government - Video
On Monday, the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees held a joint hearing on Assembly Bill 291. It would ban bump stocks and allow local governments to pass additional restrictions on firearms.
Lucy Flores speaks out about Biden incident
Former Nevada assemblywoman, Lucy Flores, expresses her feelings about an incident with former Vice President Joe Biden in 2014. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Harry Reid takes the stand in injury lawsuit
Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid took the stand on Thursday in the product liability lawsuit brought against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
THE LATEST
Nevada gets $3M in settlement for ITT students

Attorney General Aaron Ford announced his office has reached a settlement with Student CU Connect CUSO, a company that offered loans for students attending ITT Tech that Ford called abusive.