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White House: Still no money for Yucca

The White House pushed back Wednesday against a news report that a Department of Energy official is pushing for a pathway for permanent nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain, despite President Donald Trump’s assurance to Nevadans that his next budget would not include money for the project.

This month, Trump announced his about-face on Twitter, after three years of requesting money for the project. Congress would not authorize the spending, which was part of the reason Trump changed.

“Nevada, I hear you on Yucca Mountain and my Administration will RESPECT you! Congress and previous Administrations have long failed to find lasting solutions — my Administration is committed to exploring innovative approaches — I’m confident we can get it done!” Trump tweeted.

Last week, Undersecretary of Energy Mark Menezes, whom Trump has nominated to serve as deputy secretary of the department, told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, “what we’re trying to do is to put together a process that will give us a path to permanent storage at Yucca,” Axios reported Tuesday.

It was the sort of story that hinted at internal tension within the administration as Axios reported that an unnamed administration official equated Menezes’ quote as “giving the middle finger to the president.”

The White House responded with a quote in which Menezes clarified, “I have spoken to the White House and the administration will not be pursuing Yucca Mountain as a solution for nuclear waste, and there are no funds in the budget to do so. I am fully supportive of the president’s decision and applaud him for taking action when so many others have failed to do so.”

Principal Deputy Press Secretary Kelly Love said in a statement that Trump’s position had not changed and that Menezes is on board. “Respecting the will of the people of Nevada, the president’s budget calls for finding innovative alternatives for the safe and efficient disposal of our nation’s nuclear waste,” the statement reads.

Robert Halstead, executive director for the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, passed on a chance to sound an alarm.

Halstead told the Review-Journal that his sources close to the administration told him that Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette had to approve the elimination of funding to re-license Yucca Mountain. Halstead added that the state is treating the Trump maneuver as “an honest olive branch. God help them if it isn’t, because Gov. (Steve) Sisolak is not a good person to cross.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJ Saunders on Twitter.

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