Nevada water can't be used to harm its residents

It's clear who's talking out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to the right of the federal Energy Department to use Nevada water for a nuclear-waste storage project at Yucca Mountain.

And it's not Nevada.

The Nevada Legislature has determined the Yucca Mountain storage site is not desirable nor beneficial to the people of Nevada. The U.S. Congress and Bush administration have determined the Yucca site is in the best interests of the American people.

The broad conflict can be boiled down, in this instance, to whether Nevada's state engineer should be forced to approve 430 acre-feet of water a year for a use that is counter to the best interests of the state's residents.

The answer is no, both legally and morally. The Energy Department can't argue -- with any logic, anyway -- that removing nuclear waste from dozens of other locations in order to move them to Yucca is, in any way, of benefit to Nevadans.

The legal argument centers on the ability of Congress to override state laws, such as the one passed by the Nevada Legislature declaring nuclear-waste storage at Yucca Mountain detrimental to the health and welfare of the state's residents.

Here again, the Department of Energy's argument falls flat. The use of water rights by the federal government, such as to preserve minimum streamflows through national forests, still must have a purpose that benefits the public generally without harming a certain segment, such as the people of Nevada.

This is not an economic harm; it's clearly a health issue. Contamination of the groundwater is an obvious threat.

The debate is now before State Engineer Hugh Ricci, who has ample evidence to deny the Energy Department's permit. When the issue returns to federal court, Nevada must win on these arguments.


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