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Nevada lawmakers appear to block funding for Yucca Mountain

Updated December 20, 2018 - 7:20 pm

WASHINGTON — Nevada lawmakers appeared to block a “Hail Mary” pass by Yucca Mountain plan supporters who tried to slip funding into a stopgap spending bill, although the final form of the legislation remained in disarray late Thursday.

The spending bill was caught up in swirling political undertows as conservative House Republicans and President Donald Trump rejected a stopgap Senate bill that did not include $5 billion for a border wall or “steel slat” barrier with Mexico.

As Republicans grappled with final versions of the government-funding legislation, Nevada lawmakers were hopeful they had stopped efforts to revive licensing for a Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

“It’s not in there,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who had urged House leaders to ignore eleventh-hour requests for Yucca Mountain funding.

Still, Titus cautioned that a last-minute attempt by conservative GOP members to rewrite another spending bill could become a vehicle for funding projects and programs other than border security.

Earlier this year, Trump signed into law a bill to fund the Department of Energy. Senate negotiators had stripped funds to revive Yucca Mountain licensing from that bill.

Nuclear energy industry officials argued that losing the funding would set back the licensing process for another year and urged Congress to slip money into the final spending bill to revive hearings on DOE’s application to construct the nuclear waste repository.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on environment, urged the Rules Committee to allow a provision in the final spending bill, an aide said.

The earlier Senate spending bill, opposed by Trump because it lacked money for wall construction, did not include money for Yucca Mountain.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry, a proponent of the Yucca Mountain plan, met with senators and laid out a scenario under which unused energy project funds could be reprogrammed for Yucca Mountain licensing, but Senate Democrats shunned that offer, according to a source with knowledge of the meeting.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican; Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen.-elect Jacky Rosen, both Democrats; and Titus urged Senate and House leaders against adding funds for Yucca Mountain in the waning days of a lame-duck Congress. Democrats are set to take control of the House in January.

Titus said that “at some point proponents will recognize that Nevada will never support this folly and work with us to advance consent-based siting for nuclear repositories.”

Bob Halstead, executive director for the governor’s Agency for Nuclear Projects, said Nevada was “looking forward to working with the new Congress” on legislation to remake a nuclear waste program based in part on consent-based siting and interim storage with transportation and security measures.

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

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