Guy W. Farmer: Yucca Mountain not dead yet
February 25, 2017
Well, to paraphrase former President Reagan, here we go again. In previous columns I've compared the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste suppository (excuse me, repository) to an elderly cockroach. You can beat it over and over again with a stick, but it never dies. And so it is with Yucca Mountain.
The Yucca Mountain battle dates back to the 1987 "Screw Nevada" bill, which decreed more than 77,000 tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste would be stored in Southern Nevada 90 miles north of Las Vegas whether Nevadans wanted it or not … and many didn't. "Nevada is a desert wasteland and no one lives there," said Washington power-brokers and nuclear energy lobbyists who pushed the toxic project.
"Not so fast," replied newly elected Sen. Harry Reid, a feisty Southern Nevada Democrat who successfully fought the Yucca Mountain project for 30 years before retiring in January. Even though I've criticized Reid for championing ex-President Obama's left-wing social engineering agenda, I commend him yet again for keeping nuclear waste out of Nevada and hope his successor, Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, will continue a bipartisan campaign to hold the line against Yucca Mountain along with her GOP counterpart, Sen. Dean Heller of Carson City, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, and most of the Silver State's elected officials.
Before he departed Washington in January, President Obama's Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz, said "Yucca Mountain is doomed to fail because the project lacks support from elected officials in the state." He added "a consent-based approach is the only way we're going to get across the finish line." Along with most Nevadans, I define the "finish line" as the final death of the Yucca Mountain project.
In early January, five of Nevada's six-member congressional delegation, including Cortez Masto, introduced legislation to prevent the Yucca Mountain dump from being resurrected without written consent from the governor of Nevada. The only holdout in our congressional delegation is Congressman Mark Amodei, a Carson City Republican who always waffles when asked about the nuclear waste dump, as he did again Wednesday at a Chamber of Commerce "Soup's On" luncheon.
To date, we simply don't know where the Trump administration stands on Yucca Mountain. Although he pledged to study the issue at a campaign stop in Las Vegas last fall, President Trump hasn't taken a public position on the issue, and neither has his Energy Secretary, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a strong states' rights advocate. However, someone should remind the president he owns a luxury hotel located only 90 miles from the toxic waste dump site.
My friend Ty Cobb, a Yucca Mountain advocate, thinks we should go for the money and take the Feds up on their dubious offer to spend millions of our tax dollars to "study" the dump project. That unsavory proposition reminds me of when the Clintons (remember them?) talked about dragging hundred-dollar bills through trailer parks during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
So here's a counter-proposal from your favorite Nevada Appeal columnist: Former Energy Secretary Moniz said "a consent-based approach" is the only way to go on Yucca Mountain, and I agree. Therefore, let's put the Yucca project on the 2018 ballot and see whether a majority of Nevadans wants to turn our state into the nation's nuclear waste dump. And if they do, I'll never write another word about it. Promise.
Until then, however, let's not allow ourselves to be strong-armed by NIMBY politicians and powerful lobbyists with deep pockets to do something that's not in our best interests. Basically, the Feds want us to bend over and grab our ankles. No thanks!
Retired diplomat Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal's senior political columnist.