Nevada GOP Senate hopeful on defensive over nuke waste platform plank

PHILADELPHIA - Former Rep. John Ensign insists there's no reason for Nevadans to worry about a Republican Party platform plank that criticizes President Clinton's veto of a bill to bring nuclear waste to their state.

He also says Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and other Republicans who back a permanent nuclear waste dump for Nevada's Yucca Mountain remain determined to pass the bill. But he believes he can change their minds if he's elected to the Senate.

The Nevada Republican, who is running against Democrat Ed Bernstein, said he talked to Lott about the matter this week at the Republican National Convention.

''I will tell you right now, the Republicans - Lott wants to push this bill,'' Ensign said in an interview Thursday night.

''He wants to get it through now because he thinks if I get in there, he will have less of a chance of pushing through nuclear waste legislation,'' Ensign said.

''I'm in his party and I will be in the room when he is talking about pushing this bill and I can point out why it's a bad idea,'' he said.

Ensign maintains that Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., already has the ear of Democratic leaders at their private caucus meetings.

''But right now, when the Republicans meet, there's no one from Nevada in the room,'' he said.

Ensign used his 3 minutes on the GOP Convention podium on Monday to lash out at the nuclear power industry and reaffirm his commitment to keep the waste dump from ever being built in Nevada.

But national party delegates put him on the defensive again later in the day when they approved a national platform plank taking Clinton to task for vetoing the bill this year. It states:

''Nuclear plants are choking on waste because the current administration breached its contract to remove it - and then vetoed bipartisan legislation to store it at a safe, permanent repository for which the taxpayers have already paid $7 billion.''

Ensign said the plank ''doesn't even mention Nevada.

''It doesn't mention Yucca Mountain. It talks about nuclear waste and the need for a permanent repository,'' he said.

That aside, he said, ''Platforms are platforms. You're never going to agree with everything in a platform.''

Besides, he said, ''that's not where the battle will be won or lost.

''This battle will be won or lost in Congress or the White House,'' he said.

Bernstein, a Las Vegas lawyer trailing Ensign in the most recent polls by double-digits, said the GOP platform should not be dismissed so readily.

''Republicans have made it clear where they are on nuclear waste,'' Bernstein said in a telephone interview Thursday night.

''I think if you talk to the delegates of the Republican Party and told them their platform didn't mean anything, you would offend hundreds of people,'' he said.

''They fought over it long and hard. It develops their principals,'' he said.

Bernstein said the key to protecting Nevada from nuclear waste is to have fewer Republicans in the Senate, not more.

''If we can get three less Republicans in that room, then we will have Tom Daschle as the majority leader,'' he said.


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