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November 15, 2018

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The Policy Racket


Joe Heck chooses Nevada interests over party loyalty

Joe Heck

Joe Heck

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 »

Rep. Joe Heck broke ranks with Republicans today, voting against a bill that would have made cuts to renewable energy investment programs and provided funds to develop Yucca Mountain as a waste disposal site.

Heck's notable vote came on a bill to appropriate funds for energy and water development for fiscal 2012.

“The cuts contained in this legislation threaten Nevada’s chance to create jobs by becoming America’s leading renewable energy exporter,” Heck said, calling renewable energy research and development “critical to our nation’s energy future.”

“Additionally, this legislation continues funding a project that is unpopular and has long been considered dead, Yucca Mountain, despite other feasible options,” he continued. “We must move past ideas and technology from a bygone era and begin exploring options that will create jobs, and are supported by Nevadans.”

Heck had attempted to divert much of the funding for the nuclear waste disposal project at Yucca mountain earlier this week, through an amendment that would have diverted the $25 million the bill had earmarked for the project to research programs and local oversight activities. He did not offer an amendment to strip an additional $10 million in the bill set aside for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing process.

But when that amendment was knocked down on procedural grounds, it wasn’t clear what Heck would do next.

Democrats in the state leapt on Heck as a sly supporter of screw-Nevada policies.

"With Nevada's economy suffering from the worst economy since the Great Depression, Joe Heck should be focusing on job creation, not spending taxpayer dollars on opening Yucca Mountain or voting to end Medicare in order to continue taxpayer giveaways to big oil companies," Nevada Dems spokesman Zach Hudson said yesterday in a statement.

But now that Heck’s voted against the legislation, it gives him a mixed record that his opponents are going to have a tougher time parsing out for the voters.

Heck and his former Nevada Republican colleague in the House, Dean Heller — who is now in the Senate — had voted earlier this year to support a Republican budget for fiscal 2012 (the one that’s come to be known by the surname of its author, Rep. Paul Ryan), despite the fact that it contained money for Yucca: money that Heller had attempted, unsuccessfully, to kill via a perfunctory amendment that would have stripped all Yucca funding from the bill.

The Ryan bill also made cuts to funding for renewable energy programs.

There are differences between the bills, and the climate surrounding them. The Ryan budget was a measure to fund the whole government, not just selected departments and energy and water-related programs; thus the stakes were much higher. Heck also had a little more cover: back in April, only four Republicans voted against Ryan’s legislation; this time, 21 Republicans refused to back the energy and water appropriations bill.

Voting against energy and water bills isn't all that novel for a Nevada Republican: Heller did the same with the energy and water bills that appeared before the House between fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2010 (there was no separate energy and water appropriations bill in fiscal 2011). The last two years, in budgets passed under the Obama administration, Yucca mountain funding wasn't an issue; the entire Nevada House delegation voted together against the fiscal 2008 energy and water bill.

Heck's shift on the energy and water bill likely won't protect him from Democratic cross-hairs over votes he already took on the Ryan budget (which is more tied to the bill's handling of Medicare than anything else, but Yucca funding was a part of it).

He might benefit a bit from favorable timing: the last vote he took on Yucca and renewable energy was to vote down a bill that continued to fund them, while the last vote Heller took on the subject was to give the Ryan budget a second endorsement, a vote he said he was "proud" to take.

But citing Yucca and renewable energy isn't enough, Democrats are saying, especially when Heck also voted against an amendment that would have diverted another $24 million from fossil energy research programs and put it toward renewable energy efficiency programs -- which as Heck said, are "critical" to Nevada jobs (which has negligible oil).

There may not be another opportunity. This is likely the last vote Heck will have to take on the Yucca issue in a while. Odds are that the House’s fiscal 2012 appropriations bills won’t make it past the Senate, but the House probably won’t independently consider another set of appropriations bills before the fiscal year ends on September 30 either; and if they consider a compromise package, it will have been pre-combed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for all traces of Yucca funding. Reid is also unlikely to present final appropriation legislation that includes Yucca funding to the Senate.

Nevada’s Democrat in the House, Shelley Berkley, who is also vehemently against funding Yucca and vocally in favor of investing in renewable energy, voted against the House’s energy and water appropriations bill, and for the amendment.

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