House panel advances Yucca Mountain, ozone bills

House panel advances Yucca Mountain, ozone bills
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A House panel approved three environmental bills on Thursday, including controversial measures on nuclear waste storage and ozone pollution. 

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce’s environment subcommittee opposed a bill from Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) that would delay the implementation timeline for federal ozone standards.

The legislation would ask the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update its standards for ozone pollution every 10 years rather than every 5 years, the timeline currently set by federal law. 

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Supporters of the measure — including most Republicans and many industry groups that oppose stricter ozone standards — say the measure will make it easier for cities and localities to come into compliance with federal ozone limits. 

“This bill creates a path to move forward on air quality,” Olson said. 

“It fixes the mess of the last eight years by giving long overdue reforms to the process of how EPA sets new ozone standards. … This is about improving air quality in a manner that doesn’t allow states to duplicate paperwork requirements.”

The House passed Olson’s bill last year, but the Senate never took it up.  

Democrats warned that the bill would have an adverse impact on public health. 

The bill “puts the public health and safety of the American people at risk, and virtually guarantees that people living in areas with poor air quality will continue to breathe unhealthy air indefinitely,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the full Energy and Commerce Committee.

Democrats also pushed back on a GOP bill to advance a nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. 

Republicans crafted a bill to speed up the permitting process for the Yucca site by giving the federal government the power to issue air permits, bypassing Nevada’s longstanding opposition to the project. 

“Nuclear waste management policy is not a partisan issue and there is an urgent need for Congress to address this challenge as taxpayer liability continues to skyrocket due to the federal government’s unfulfilled obligations,” Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said.

Democrats said they want to address the issue of nuclear waste storage and find a long-term solution to the problem. But they objected to the Republicans’ bill, saying it doesn’t take Nevada’s wishes into consideration. 

The bill “would essentially override the state of Nevada’s objection over its water rights,” Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) said.

“States, especially western states, are incredibly protective of these rights and I would recommend caution before going down this road.”

The panel also approved a bipartisan draft bill to reauthorize the EPA's Brownfields program. The three bills next go the full committee for approval.