Las Vegas Sun

June 17, 2019

Currently: 91° — Complete forecast

Sun editorial:

Deceptions about secret nuclear shipment are insulting to Nevadans

Energy Secretary Rick Perry is doing a Texas two-step around the truth when it comes to his department’s controversial shipment of plutonium to Nevada last fall.

Perry has gone on the offensive about the shipment in recent days, accusing Gov. Steve Sisolak and others of falsely claiming that they hadn’t been notified about it.

Perry’s message to Nevada is that we have it all wrong — that far from being secretive, the Energy Department actually notified practically every state and local official down to the parking enforcement officers that the shipment was coming. Further, Perry accused Nevada elected leaders of “political grandstanding” on the matter.

That’s a load of something, but it ain’t plutonium and it stinks to high heaven.

What’s happening here is that Perry is playing it loose with the term “notified.” Yes, the Energy Department last summer released an analysis about moving the plutonium, and invited state officials to be briefed on its findings.

But former Gov. Brian Sandoval and former Sen. Dean Heller immediately raised concerns over whether the analysis was thorough and began negotiations aimed at preventing it.

In response to Perry’s criticisms, Sandoval has flatly denied that the feds notified him that they planned to commence the shipments. In fact, Sandoval said he sent staff members to meet with Energy officials in October, completely unaware that the plutonium had already been sent to Nevada at that time.

Never, Sandoval said, was he given a timeline for the process or a date for the movement.

Which side to believe?

This one’s easy — Nevada.

To believe Perry, you’d have to think that every one of those many, many officials he claimed to have notified is lying, and ostensibly doing it to make the Trump administration look bad and themselves look good.

But let’s not forget that Sandoval and Heller are both Republicans. They’re not seeking office, either, at least at the moment.

Perry and President Donald Trump, meanwhile, have been anything but forthright on nuclear issues and Nevada. A classic case in point came in October, when Trump said he’d reconsidered his support of resurrecting the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository project, only to have Perry indicate exactly the opposite days later. This was clearly a case of Trump saying something to support Heller, who at the time was in a fierce battle to retain his seat, and Perry accidentally revealing the truth after failing to get the memo.

Now, Perry appears to be taking a page from Trump’s playbook — never admit fault, never back down, always punch back and never mind the truth. Either that, or Trump is calling his shots for him.

Perry is not only denying secrecy, but the administration is sliming Sisolak for opting not to attend events arranged by the White House and Vice President Mike Pence’s office during a recent trip to Washington, D.C., for the National Governors Association meeting.

But this comes after Sisolak had reached out for a meeting and hadn’t heard a peep back. If the White House had really wanted to have a conversation, it had every opportunity.

Meanwhile, the idea of Sisolak going to one of the NGA events and engaging in meaningful dialogue is far-fetched. Settings like fancy dinners and presentations to a crowd of dozens of governors aren’t the place to get into heady matters like plutonium shipments.

So it’s understandable why Sisolak, having been given the cold shoulder, would steer clear of the events.

If Perry really wanted to meet with Sisolak — as he now says he does — he could have responded to Sisolak’s outreach and sat down for a conversation as opposed to attacking the governor and other leaders publicly.

Perry, in his guest column, made a big deal about being the former governor of Texas and therefore understanding Sisolak’s need “to protect the interests of his state and the safety” of Nevadans.

But in misrepresenting the Energy Department’s outreach to state officials last summer, he’s showing that what he’s really protecting is his own backside and a presidential administration that doesn’t truly care about Nevadans’ best interests.

Perry claims he’s hopeful that he and Sisolak can work together.

But to that, we’d offer him a message: If you’re being sincere, Mr. Perry, there’s a very simple way to prove it — just pick up the phone. The main office number is 775-684-5670.