Decision on nuke dump funding to come after election
LAS VEGAS – Congress is putting off until after the presidential election a budget fight on spending for a national nuclear waste dump in Nevada.
Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Pete Domenici, R-N.M., leaders of the Senate energy and water subcommittee, have been unable to agree on spending for the Yucca Mountain project.
Analysts say lawmakers also might also look for a signal from voters whether to continue developing the repository 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic challenger, has told voters in Nevada he would kill the Yucca program if elected.
Republican President Bush backs the repository and authorized the Yucca project along with Congress in 2002.
The administration has asked Congress for $880 million to continue repository work in 2005. However, Congress has balked at a provision to tap $749 million by restructuring a national nuclear waste fund.
That leaves the Energy Department with $131 million to spend on the Nevada program in the fiscal year beginning Friday without making deep cuts in other energy priorities.
Brian O’Connell, nuclear waste director for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, said Yucca backers might try to increase spending on nuclear waste issues if Bush wins.
If Kerry wins, “Congress could go with a low number and say we need a time-out,” O’Connell said.
The House and Senate this week enacted temporary spending bills to keep government departments operating beyond the start of the new fiscal year. Temporary spending bills will let the Energy Department spend the same amount on the Yucca project as it spent in fiscal 2004, officials said.
Lawmakers plan a lame-duck session after the Nov. 2 elections to complete work on 2005 spending and other unfinished business.
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com