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May 29, 2015

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GOP threatens to build Yucca if Reid kills filibuster

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Yucca Mountain is located about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Yucca Mountain

The U.S. Energy Department plans to store spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, an extinct volcano about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »
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Harry Reid

Sen. Harry Reid has long been warning Republicans he has the power to get his agenda around their “nay” votes by curtailing the procedural filibuster.

But could dismantling the Senate’s signature 60-vote hurdle hit Reid where it hurts most, by making it possible to turn Yucca Mountain into a nuclear waste dump?

Republicans sure want Reid to think so.

In what has become a near daily routine the last few weeks, Senate Republican leaders spent Tuesday morning telling Reid to keep his hands off the filibuster. But this time they warned that if Reid ends the filibuster, he should brace himself for Yucca turning into a nuclear waste dump if and when Republicans take over the majority of the Senate.

“A vote to end the filibuster is a vote to complete Yucca Mountain. If we have 51 votes, we can order the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue a license, we can order the Department of Energy to build it and we can fund it,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

“Sen. Reid’s an able, experienced leader. He knows that if Democrats figure out a way to get what they want with only 51 votes, Republicans can figure that out, too, and if we’re in charge, we’ll do it,” Alexander said.

Reid refused to comment on Republicans’ threats.

But they caught the attention of Nevada’s other senator, who has been worrying about the potential of Republicans taking revenge for the filibuster out on Yucca Mountain.

“The Nevada delegation needs every arrow in our quiver to keep the nation’s nuclear waste out of our state. Nevada shouldn’t be the fallout from the battle of the nuclear option,” Sen. Dean Heller said.

The “nuclear option” is using a simple majority of senators to pass new rules that would end the use of the 60-vote filibuster hurdle. Republicans often refer to it as “breaking the rules to change the rules.”

Democrats maintain that the filibuster option would likely only disappear for judicial and administrative nominations and that, regardless, the minority party would always retain the option of talking a bill to death.

Heller also reiterated that he remains as opposed to turning Yucca Mountain into a nuclear waste repository as he has always been. But that didn’t stop Nevada Democrats from accusing Heller of selling out Yucca to appease his party.

“Heller is more interested in playing to the cameras and garnering easy headlines than in protecting Nevada families,” Nevada Democrats’ spokesman Zach Hudson said in a statement.

Heller did not, in fact, go before cameras Tuesday or endorse Alexander’s threat to make Yucca a tit-for-tat for sweeping filibuster reform.

This isn’t the first time Senate Republicans have talked of a Yucca takedown, should they regain control of the chamber.

In late 2011, after he failed to get floor time for legislation to prevent the government from shutting down the repository, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said of Yucca: “As soon as Reid is out of office, we’ll win.”

Kirk and Heller later engaged in a rather odd partnership to make sure Heller got credit for killing Kirk’s amendment, instead of Reid.

Alexander’s threat Tuesday comes just one day after the House Appropriations Committee released its budget breakdowns, promising $25 million to develop the Yucca waste repository.

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