House Republicans poised to offer funds for Nev. repository

By Hannah Northey | 04/14/2015 07:03 AM EDT

House Republicans are hoping to attach a request for hundreds of millions of dollars to continue a federal review of the contentious Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository when appropriators take up a spending bill.

Whether such language would make it past Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is another matter.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chairman of the House Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, said during an interview on Capitol Hill yesterday that he plans to include money in the annual energy and water spending bill for Yucca Mountain.


Simpson’s subcommittee is scheduled tomorrow to mark up the spending bill, which funds the Department of Energy, Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers, among other agencies (E&E Daily, April 13). Simpson said the new language would provide money for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue reviewing the Energy Department’s application to build a repository under Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The congressman said the language could mirror prior House Republican requests for around $205 million, including $55 million for the NRC and $150 million for the Energy Department. "It’ll be somewhere in that neighborhood, part of it for Yucca Mountain, part of it for the NRC," he said.

But Simpson acknowledged that House Republicans’ push to advance the repository continues to collide with efforts in the Senate and, ultimately, opposition from Reid, who has made killing the project a top priority.

The congressman said there are Senate Democrats with waste in their state keen on finding a repository, but appropriators in the upper chamber have failed in moving through money for Yucca Mountain in the past. Simpson said he’s not sure that dynamic has changed with Reid’s announced retirement. "Whether we can now or not, I don’t know," he said.

What cannot happen, he said, is for Congress to only approve funds for an interim pilot storage program and not Yucca Mountain. In the upper chamber, discussions have focused on moving forward with such a pilot program alongside a bipartisan bill to restart the nation’s search for temporary and permanent storage sites (E&E Daily, March 26).

"Our problem is our authorizers believe, and I think they’re right, that if they did the interim storage and nothing for Yucca Mountain, Yucca Mountain would be forgotten and we’d move to interim storage," he said. "I think you need both."

Simpson added that the reality is that the United States has generated enough waste to fill the Nevada repository if it opened tomorrow, and House authorizers are concerned that the Nevada site would be forgotten if the government funded only an interim storage site.

"If we can get money in for both Yucca Mountain and the pilot program, for the borehole proposal that they’re talking about … I’m willing to do it," he said. "But we’ve got to have money for Yucca Mountain in there to get me past my authorizers. They’re willing to go for both, but not one at the expense of the other."

The subcommittee’s action arrives on the heels of a bipartisan House trip through the repository site last week in Nevada, where Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said the Senate should vote on Yucca Mountain.

The tour, notably, included a staffer for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Murkowski is one of four authors of nuclear waste legislation in the Senate.