One thing that unites Nevadans is opposition to President Donald Trump’s effort to turn the state into a huge nuclear waste dump.
That’s why many were surprised when Trump suggested he might abandon that policy after touring the state recently with GOP Senator Dean Heller, who is in a tight reelection race against Democrat Jacky Rosen.
But Trump’s Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, admitted on Friday the administration still supports building the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository outside of Las Vegas.
In doing so, Perry effectively spoiled Trump’s effort to help Heller, as Jon Ralston, editor of the Nevada Independent, explained to Bloomberg: “Poor Rick Perry didn’t get the memo and accidentally told the truth.”
Here’s some background. During the Reagan administration, Congress tried to come up with a plan to centralize the country’s high-level radioactive waste, especially the spent nuclear fuel accumulating at our nuclear power plants.
In 1987, Congress designated Yucca Mountain — 90 miles outside of Las Vegas — as the country’s official nuclear repository. Back then, the state had only about 1 million residents (compared to some 3 million today), so it was not only much more sparsely populated, but also had far less political clout to fight the choice.
In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Yucca Mountain Bill to move the project forward, and in 2006, Bush’s department of Energy proposed a plan to open the facility and start accepting waste in 2017.
But the rapidly growing state did not want trucks and trains bringing in nuclear waste, let alone have a nuclear dump so closed to its biggest and fastest growing city.
In December 2006, longtime Yucca opponent Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) became Senate Majority Leader, and declared, “Yucca Mountain is dead. It’ll never happen.” Barack Obama campaigned on killing the project, and by 2009 it was effectively defunded and moribund.
But Trump has now revived the project, putting $120 million dollars in his fiscal year 2019 budget for Yucca. In May, the House voted 340-72 to restart the licensing process for Yucca. Every member of the Nevada congressional delegation, however, opposed the bill.
It’s unsurprising then that Trump made a lot of news when he appears to reverse course and told a Nevada radio station on October 20, “I think you should do things where people want them to happen, so I would be very inclined to be against it.” He added, “We will be looking at it very seriously over the next few weeks, and I agree with the people of Nevada.”
Trump has been going around the country this election season making a bunch of likely empty promises, such as claiming he will protect the health coverage of those with pre-existing conditions — even though his administration has been working to kill that provision.
Many were skeptical of Trump’s Yucca statement. After all, Trump was the one who proposed reviving Yucca in the first place.
So it wasn’t entirely a shock when Perry said a week later on October 26, that “yes” the administration still supports opening Yucca. Indeed, Perry pointed out, “I’m making this presumption by looking at a budgeting process and there was money in the president’s budget to manage Yucca.”
In response to Perry, Heller insisted that “the White House must follow through on President Trump’s words about supporting consent-based siting and commit to zeroing-out funding for Yucca Mountain.”
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) said Perry’s comments “show that the president has lied to the people of Nevada.”
The bottom line is that it appears Trump has been caught in yet another lie aimed solely at boosting GOP electoral prospects.