Las Vegas Sun

July 5, 2022

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Columnist Dan Geary: Energy bill really does push Yucca

Dan Geary is the Nevada spokesperson for the National Environmental Trust, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization devoted to environmental issues.

In a recent Las Vegas Sun article ("Environmentalists target Ensign" by reporter Launce Rake), Sen. John Ensign's spokesperson, Jack Finn, described the notion that the Senate's energy legislation is a vote in favor of Yucca Mountain as laughable. Really?

The bill contains the first-ever production tax credit in history for nuclear power plants. Finn points out the benefits of a similar tax credit for clean, renewable geothermal energy, yet he can't seem to make the connection that a tax break for nuclear power would have the same effect in that form of power generation. Every nuclear power plant in the United States creates a new constituency, made up of the communities near said nuclear power plant, that would clamor for the radioactive waste to be shipped away to, say, Yucca Mountain in Southern Nevada.

Finn articulated the opposition by Sen. Ensign, R-Nev., to the bill as a whole. But the senator stands with the nuclear industry's backers in the Senate on the question of whether or not to end a filibuster. Sen. Ensign believes that the bill deserves an "up or down vote" in the Senate. We couldn't disagree more.

If you want to serve Nevada in a legislative body where debate is limited and large states have a stronger voice than small states like Nevada -- run for the House of Representatives, not the Senate. The rules of the Senate are designed so that senators from sparsely populated states like Nevada can defend themselves. Those rules have been utilized by Nevada's senators on previous nuke dump battles and the environmental community stood shoulder to shoulder with Sen. Ensign in those fights.

Why, then, does this colossal boost to nuclear power (and waste), combined with pork projects such as backing a Louisiana shopping mall anchored by a Hooter's restaurant, deserve such deference from a Nevada legislator? Yes, production tax credits for geothermal energy are good. But a pork sandwich with whipped cream and a cherry is still a pork sandwich.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., described the bill as the "No Lobbyist Left Behind Act." Enough pork has been dished out in this bill to guarantee a majority (51) of senators will vote for the bill, and the White House is no doubt dishing out more to get to the 60 votes required to stop a filibuster. Nevadans from both parties detest that kind of raw power politics.

I doubt they'd accept a no vote on the bill and a yes vote to guarantee its passage by others. Maybe the energy bill's impact on Yucca Mountain isn't so laughable after all.