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September 2, 2014

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Washington Memo:

Dina Titus takes on Yucca, and Dean Heller grills NCAA president

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Christopher DeVargas

Congresswoman Dina Titus takes part in a ceremony at the Fremont Street Experience welcoming the Festival of Lights, Wednesday Nov. 27, 2013.

Amber Phillips, the Sun's Washington correspondent, wraps up the week in politics with Nevada's congressional delegation.

WASHINGTON — Nevada's congressional delegation tried its best this week to strip federal funding for research to store the nation's nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain, but it was a futile effort. Again.

Rep. Dina Titus, a Las Vegas Democrat, proposed two amendments in a House of Representatives energy spending bill that would effectively end funding for the project and allow the energy department to cancel it.

"This policy has been a waste of time and money, and indeed it is bad politics, not good science," she said Wednesday in a speech on the House floor.

Rep. Steven Horsford, a Democrat representing the north Las Vegas Valley and rural parts north, echoed her comments.

"I oppose efforts to fund the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project. Any avenues for the activation of this project should be blocked," he said on the House floor.

The entire Nevada delegation voted to strip funding for Yucca Mountain, but, as expected, the amendments failed by more than a 4-to-1 margin. Once again, the Nevada delegation appears to be fighting a losing fight on Yucca.

That is, until Sen. Harry Reid steps in. When Yucca Mountain funding comes up in the Senate, Reid will be sure to kill, just like he always does.

It's yet another chapter in the tug-of-war between the House and the small but mighty Nevada delegation over Yucca Mountain.

Heck's proposals headed to the president

Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican representing Henderson and Boulder City, can take consolation from the Yucca vote in the fact that two of his legislative priorities are heading to the president's desk to be signed into law.

The Senate on Wednesday approved the sale of 900 acres of federal land of an abandoned mine in Henderson for cleanup and redevelopment. It's a project Reid has been trying to get approved his entire 27 years in Congress. The House approved Heck's measure last year.

The House also passed a jobs-training bill Wednesday that in part adds more flexibility on who can serve on local boards that determine where federal money for job-training programs should go. A version of Heck's proposal to create that membership flexibility made it into the Senate- and House-approved legislation.

Amodei gets things done on Appropriations

Another ongoing, epic battle for Nevada lawmakers is how to protect the greater sage grouse, which roams the Nevada desert but is in danger of being declared endangered. The listing would put a dent in Nevada's economy by limiting recreational, ranching, mining and environmental activities in the greater sage grouse's habitat.

Rep. Mark Amodei, a Republican who represents most of Northern Nevada, got language in a Department of Interior spending bill that put off the decision for another year — beyond the current 2015 deadline.

In that same spending bill, Amodei also placed a provision that will make it harder for the federal government to take privately held water rights.

It's unclear whether Congress will even pass spending bills this year. But Amodei's seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee, which approves all House spending bills, gives him the leverage to try.

Sen. Heller's eventful week

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller also had a busy week.

He proposed an amendment to a hunting and fishing bill the Senate debated that would alleviate onerous federal restrictions for volunteers conducting rescue missions on federal land. A similar proposal passed the House last year.

Reid, however, effectively blocked all amendments from the bill.

There were no hard feelings between the Nevada senators. They turned around and co-introduced legislation requiring the Bureau of Land Management to resolve property disputes between federal and private land that have stalled growth for residents in Storey, Nye and Esmeralda counties.

Off the Senate floor, Heller's also developing a reputation as a bit of a bulldog questioner in committees.

He's already asked Dr. Oz whether there's such a thing as "miracle pills" and grilled former Veterans Affairs chief Eric Shinseki about why Shinseki shouldn't resign. On Wednesday, he asked NCAA President Mark Emmert why universities don't offer more multiyear scholarships for student athletes.

"Go to your board and demand change," Heller said.

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