Nevada should turn off the water on an arrogant federal bureaucracy
Newcomers who want to understand the roots of Nevada’s contentious relationship with the federal government need look no further than the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its toxic Yucca Mountain Project for an explanation.
For 20 years now, DOE, Congress and the White House have consistently defied the will of the people of the state of Nevada by moving ahead with plans to build a massive nuclear waste dump (the Feds call it a “repository”) at Yucca Mountain only 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, the fastest growing city in the nation. Although more than 70 percent of Nevadans oppose the project, DOE continues to waste millions of taxpayer dollars on a white elephant that will never open.
In the most recent DOE outrage, a spokesman for the project defied a federal judge’s definitive ruling and declared that drilling would continue at the Southern Nevada site. Following the judge’s decision, James Hollrith, acting director of DOE’s Las Vegas office, asserted that some drilling was exempt from State Engineer Tracy Taylor’s June 1 cease-and-desist order despite a recent federal court decision ordering DOE to stop using state water for its drilling operations. To add insult to injury, Hollrith told Taylor that drilling would continue until the end of September and that the department would use at least 286,000 additional gallons of the state’s limited groundwater supply.
In late August Las Vegas Federal District Judge Roger Hunt ruled that the Feds couldn’t ignore state restrictions by continuing to drill test holes at the Yucca Mountain site. “This entire ‘crisis’ is self-imposed and self-created,” Hunt wrote in his 24-page decision. “The only argument the DOE makes is that because the site has been approved … it has the authority to do whatever it wishes,” which is the height of federal arrogance. “We’ll do whatever we want no matter what restrictions you put on us,” they’re telling Nevada. That attitude obviously violates the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads as follows: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution … are reserved to the States.” Clear enough?
“We’re going to file an emergency request with the court to compel (DOE) to stop,” said outspoken Nevada Nuclear Projects Chief Bob Loux. “We think they’re thumbing their nose at the court.” I agree and wonder why Nevada’s top elected officials – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has vowed to kill the Yucca Mountain Project, and Gov. Jim Gibbons – haven’t weighed-in publicly in support of Loux and Nevada voters. Perhaps Reid is too busy trying to end the war in Iraq, but Gibbons has no excuse.
In fact, I worry about the governor’s commitment to the fight against Yucca Mountain because he has waffled on the issue since taking office in January. As a Sept. 5 Nevada Appeal editorial noted, “(Gibbons) supported allowing DOE to use the state’s water for an additional month…(and) appointed a Yucca supporter to the state’s nuclear watchdog committee before quickly rescinding the decision after the subsequent outcry.” We expect more from our governor on this life-and-death issue.
“Scientific and political improprieties have been used … to keep the (Yucca) project on track,” added the Reno Gazette-Journal. “The closer DOE gets to the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) deadline, the more desperate it will be to push the project forward.” Especially because Vice President Dick Cheney is pushing hard for the “repository” behind the scenes because of his well-known and well-documented friendship with Big Energy.
DOE has been drilling at the dump site to compile data about the potential for earthquakes and floods that must be included in a license application that DOE must submit to the NRC by next June. But since DOE has missed every previous deadline, there’s no reason to believe they’ll make this one, and their target date for opening the facility has already been pushed back from 2010 to 2017 at the earliest.
Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Director Allen Biaggi told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Judge Hunt’s decision “was pretty clear and convincing. We want them (DOE) to confirm to us that they’ve stopped using the water…” So has DOE actually stopped using the state’s water? We have a right to know the answer to that question.
In 1987, Congress decided that Yucca Mountain was the only site that would be studied for the nuclear dump on the insulting theory that Nevada was a thinly populated desert wasteland. But that was before the Silver State’s population exploded and before Reid became Senate majority leader and moved Nevada’s 2008 party caucuses to mid-January, making our state a principle player in the presidential nomination process. As far as I know only two presidential candidates – Democrats Joe Biden and Bill Richardson, a former Energy Secretary – have come out strongly against Yucca Mountain. Perhaps others have chimed in, but if so, I’m unaware of their opposition.
Yucca Mountain is a major campaign issue in Nevada and the sooner the candidates recognize that fact, the better. In the meantime, the state should make sure the water is off at the dump site, and keep it off.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a semi-retired journalist who has been a Nevada resident since 1962.