Energy & Environment

Week ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight

A House committee will kick up a smoldering, years-long fight over a controversial nuclear waste storage facility next week.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee's environment panel will hold a hearing on Wednesday to consider a bill that would revive the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

The bill would give federal agencies more power over the Yucca site, sidestepping Nevada's ability to withhold permits for the project. Committee leaders last week hailed it as a proposal to get the Yucca project back on track.

"This proposal was thoughtfully developed through an extensive record of hearings and other oversight over the past six years to identify what may be needed to strengthen the Nuclear Waste Policy Act," Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.), the subcommittee chair, said.

"Now it is time to get our nation's nuclear waste management policy back on track through consideration of this legislative proposal."

Nevada has, for years, resisted efforts to store spent nuclear fuel at the Yucca Mountain site about 100 miles outside of Las Vegas. Yucca is the country's only long-term storage facility for nuclear waste -- a status enshrined in federal law -- but state officials have long opposed efforts to store waste there.

Former Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) led the charge against the project during his tenure, ensuring efforts to store waste at the Yucca site stalled in Congress. The new House bill and Wednesday's hearing, though, are indications Republicans are looking to kickstart the project.

The plan has an ally in the White House. President Trump's 2018 budget proposes spending $120 million to restart the licensing process for Yucca, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited the site in March.

Local officials of both parties, though, remain stridently opposed to the push. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) sent a letter to appropriators earlier this month asking them to "honor the wishes of the state of Nevada and exclude any funding focused on licensing a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain."

Democrats in the state's House delegation slammed the hearing as well.

"It is disconcerting that once again, forces outside Nevada are trying to pawn off their problems by dumping nuclear waste in our state," Rep. Ruben Kihuen, whose district includes the site, said in a statement on Thursday. Rep. Dina Titus said she would "continue to fight any and all attempts to turn Nevada into the dumping ground for the nuclear industry."

The Yucca hearing is likely to be the most contentious energy issue on Capitol Hill in the coming week, with lawmakers facing an otherwise hefty workload. Congress will try to avoid a government shutdown, fight over border wall funding, begin reviewing a tax plan from Trump and potentially reconsider a GOP healthcare bill, as well.

In between, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on the Clean Water Rule, an Obama administration regulation designed to expand federal jurisdiction over waterways. Republicans and rural lawmakers oppose the regulation, which Trump ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to strip off the books.

Next Saturday will bring the People's Climate March, a multi-city protest demanding the federal government take action on climate change. The march's signature event will be in Washington.

Organizers began plotting the protest last summer, but Trump's election -- and his work dismantling the Obama administration's climate record -- has added more urgency to the matter, advocates say.

The march is modeled off of a 2014 climate march that drew 400,000 people to the streets of New York City, one of the largest protests in U.S. history. This year's march will come a week after science advocates hold marches of their own -- including one in D.C. -- to support science in the United States.

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