Las Vegas Sun

September 15, 2019

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Nuclear waste in Nevada? Not on my watch

While I understand that the publisher may be blinded by his own political bias, which is clear based on both his monetary and in-kind contributions, I would like to take the opportunity to provide the complete history of my successful efforts to stop Yucca Mountain. As the late Paul Harvey would say, here is “the rest of the story.”

As long as I am in the U.S. Senate, Yucca Mountain is dead. It is that simple. Whether it’s proposing legislation that serves as a roadblock to the failed project or making my opposition to Yucca Mountain known to the administration, Senate leadership and chairmen of the committees with jurisdiction, I’ve been working tirelessly for years and over the course of three administrations to prevent the construction of a nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

Stopping Yucca Mountain has always been one of my top legislative priorities, and my record reflects that. In fact, the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act was one of the first bills I introduced this Congress. This bicameral, bipartisan bill that I introduced along with Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev. — a true, lifelong opponent of Yucca Mountain — states that the Department of Energy needs the consent and support of the affected state and its local communities before authorizing the construction of a nuclear waste repository.

Instead of pursuing this common-sense approach, however, the administration and the U.S. House of Representatives have charged forward with reviving the failed Yucca Mountain project. Every time they took one step forward though, they’ve hit a brick wall only because I’ve stonewalled their action.

Under my watch in the U.S. Senate, not a single dollar has been allocated to restart licensing activities at Yucca Mountain. For the second year in a row, the administration’s budget included funding to restart licensing activities. In March, I discussed the budget request with Energy Secretary Rick Perry at a U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing. Perry suggested that in 2019, that agency would again make the same funding request, but he added that he “suspect(s) the result will probably be about the same.” Denied just as it was the previous two years.

A few weeks later, I questioned Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney during a U.S. Senate Banking Committee hearing, and I highlighted the administration’s reckless and fiscally irresponsible pursuit of Yucca Mountain. When asked about alternative solutions to the country’s nuclear waste problem, Mulvaney told me he is open-minded to other resolutions and suggested that we work together to find one.

If I wasn’t in the Senate and fighting Yucca Mountain at every turn, the project would already be set in motion.

Earlier this year, the House of Representatives advanced funding aimed at jumpstarting Yucca Mountain, but I was able to block it. I worked to ensure that the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water Appropriations bill did not include any funding for the project, and in March, it was reported that the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Water Development Appropriations subcommittee signaled that the spending package would not include Yucca Mountain because of objection from the U.S. Senate.

Furthermore, just a few days ago, the House took a bipartisan vote to approve the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, a bill that would jumpstart Yucca Mountain. Its latest effort reinforces exactly what is at stake for Nevada: Without my leadership in the Senate, Yucca Mountain will get the green light. But as long as I am in the Senate, these efforts are futile and amount to nothing more than a stunt because I will make sure that this bill is dead on arrival. Not only will I place a hold on it immediately, I will stop this proposal at every procedural turn.

The late Gov. Kenny Guinn, a friend and mentor of mine, often spoke about two types of people: those who solve problems and those who talk about them. I’ve carried Gov. Guinn’s advice to be a problem solver with me, and that’s why I’ve pursued every avenue possible to stop Yucca Mountain. Another federal study will not achieve anything other than additional waste of taxpayer money; stopping Yucca Mountain requires leadership and a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude. Each day, I show up to work focused on solving problems — like Yucca Mountain — with real solutions. As long as I’m in the Senate, nuclear waste will be kept out of our backyards.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Dean Heller is a U.S. Senator representing Nevada.